On Monday, Magistrate Christilyn Benjamin sentenced two Venezuelan men each to spend seven years in prison in relation to a Sept. 27 police raid at an Anderson Hill residence that allegedly uncovered 124. 36 kilograms of cocaine worth roughly $12 million, a loaded handgun, and more than $4,000 in cash.
Another Venezuelan arrested during the raid was sentenced to five months in prison for the charge of illegal entry, Ms. Benjamin ruled.
For the charge of possession of a controlled drug with intent to supply, Ignacio Pineda Moises Gonzales, 27, was sentenced to seven years in prison and a $100,000 fine, while he got another seven-year sentence for possession of a controlled drug and six months for illegal entry, Ms. Benjamin ruled.
The sentences will all run concurrently, and will include his time on remand, the magistrate said. Franklin Ramirez Garcia, 26, meanwhile, was sentenced to seven years imprisonment and a $10,000 fine for keeping a gun without a licence, as well as six months for illegal entry. Mr. Garcia’s sentences also will run concurrently and include the time already spent on remand, Ms. Benjamin said.
Mr. Moises Gonzales will have to serve an additional year in prison if he does not pay the fine by the end of his original term, while Mr. Garcia will spend another six months behind bars if he does not pay his fine by the end of his original term, Ms. Benjamin ruled.
Luis Hector Gonzales, 26, was sentenced to five months imprisonment for the charge of illegal entry, which has a maximum custodial sentence of 12 months and a fine of $1,000, according to the magistrate.
Attorney Stephen Daniels, who represented all three defendants, said they had immigrated to the Virgin Islands to escape the crumbling economy of their home country.
Taking into consideration the sentencing guidelines outlined by the prosecution and by the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, Ms. Benjamin chose eight years as the starting point for Mr. Moises Gonzales’ sentence for possession with intent to supply, she said.
The magistrate then dropped three years from the sentence after taking into consideration mitigating factors — his guilty plea at the first opportunity and his previously clean criminal record — but then added two years after counting aggravating factors, which she said were the seriousness of the crime and its prevalence in the Virgin Islands.
In deciding the penalty for Mr. Garcia’s charge of keeping an unlicensed firearm, Ms. Benjamin chose the minimum penalty of five years behind bars as the starting point, she said.
Given the seriousness of the offence and the prevalence of such offences in the territory, she decided to tack on an additional two years and impose a $10,000 fine, she said.
Ms. Benjamin also decided to forego the one-third custodial discount often afforded to defendants who plead guilty at their earliest convenience, as the offence in question is so severe, she said.
The magistrate did not list any aggravating or mitigating factors for Mr. Hector Gonzales’ sentence for illegal entry.
Facts of the case
Before handing down her sentence, Ms. Benjamin read the facts of the case as outlined by the Crown.
After police entered the residence early in the morning on Sept. 27, officers called out to the occupants and observed people coming out of their rooms, the magistrate said while reviewing the Crown’s allegations.
Upon seeing the officers, one of the defendants ran into a room and locked the door, Ms. Benjamin said.
Nonetheless, police officers breached the locked room and secured all of the occupants, she added.
Officers with the K-9 Unit were then called in to search the premises, uncovering five black duffel bags filled with blocks of cocaine, the magistrate read.
A photo ID of Mr. Moises Gonzales was found on the floor next to the bags, and though Mr. Moises Gonzales identified himself as the owner of the room, he said he “‘did not know anything about the bags,”’ Ms. Benjamin read.
The other arrested individuals also claimed not to know anything about the duffel bags, she added.
The officers also found heavy-duty vacuum-sealed bags in a separate room, according to the allegations.
After completing the search, the officers then removed the blocks of cocaine from the duffel bags and weighed them in front of the defendants, the magistrate explained.
“I must pause here and commend the [Royal Virgin Islands Police Force] for the good work in getting not only another firearm off the streets, but in aborting these 124.36 kilos of cocaine from going into circulation, here in the VI or overseas,” Ms. Benjamin said.
Jessica Faronas Farrinas, another Venezuelan arrested during the raid, was fined $1,000 after pleading guilty in Magistrates’ Court on Oct. 13 to overstaying her landing permit, Mr. Daniels said previously.
Two other Venezuelans arrested during the search — Dannys Juan Rodriguez Robles and Emerais Guadalupe Lopez Leiva — also previously pleaded guilty to overstaying their landing permits and were each fined $1,000, according to Mr. Daniels.