United States authorities have identified a Dominican Republic man arrested near St. Thomas last month as the leader of an international drug trafficking network responsible for the record 2.3 tonnes of cocaine seized last month on Tortola, according to documents filed recently in the US District Court of St. Thomas and St. John.

A motion for detention filed Nov. 24 by US Assistant District Attorney Delia Smith also alleges that the DR man —Ruben Reyes Barel, one of five men arrested on Nov. 18 — worked in concert with Tortola police officer Darren Davis and his brother Liston Davis, “who acted as [Mr.] Reyes Barel’s protection and secured his cocaine on their property.”

Both brothers were arrested last month in connection to a Nov. 6 raid on Darren Davis’ Balsam Ghut property that uncovered the cocaine — which officials said has an estimated street value of $250 million, or roughly 75 percent of the territory’s gross domestic product — in addition to “several automatic rifles and [Mr.] Reyes Barel’s cellphone and personal identification,” Ms. Smith alleged.

“On or after” the day of the seizure, however, Mr. Reyes Barel fled the territory after police officers attempted to execute an arrest-and-search warrant on him, according to the allegations. Having evaded police in this territory, Mr. Reyes Barel subsequently arranged for his co-defendants and other members of his criminal network to travel from Puerto Rico to St. Thomas to help him complete his escape, Ms. Smith alleged.

Mr. Reyes Barel’s criminal network operates in the VI, St. Thomas, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic, the prosecutor added.

VI Police Commissioner Michael Matthews declined to comment because of the ongoing investigation.

Motion for detention

Arguing for the pre-trial detention of the accused men, Ms. Smith claimed that they all posed a significant flight risk.

Mr. Reyes Barel is DR national without legal status in the US, who has a warrant for his arrest in this territory on charges of cocaine and gun possession, she stated.

The four other accused — Jorge Romero-Amara; Giovanni Graciani; Hector Rivera Concepción; and Pedro Luis Sayan Villaneuva — are US citizens, the motion states.

Mr. Rivera Concepción previously was arrested in Puerto Rico in 2017 for possession of a controlled substance, while Messrs. Romero-Amara, Graciani, and Sayan Villanueva have no prior criminal history, the motion states.

On Nov. 25, US Magistrate Judge Ruth Miller signed an order outlining the conditions of Mr. Graciani’s bail release, which require him to surrender his passport, report to a probation officer, and travel only between Fajardo, Puerto Rico, and St. Thomas.

Mr. Graciani signed a $100,000 bond securing his release on bail the same day.

Initial arrests

Mr. Reyes Barel and his codefendants were arrested at about 9:30 p.m. on Nov. 18 after US Customs and Border Protection agents noticed a boat that was travelling away from St. Thomas and towards Puerto Rico without using any visible lights, according to an affidavit filed in the District Court of St. Thomas and St. John by a special agent with the US Federal Bureau of Investigations.

A team of agents set out to try and stop the boat, but their initial attempt was unsuccessful, and they further pursued it until bringing it to a halt about a mile southwest of Savana Island, which is roughly eight miles off the western tip of St. Thomas, the affidavit states.

During this chase, agents observed individuals throwing black objects off the boat and into the water, and they marked where they landed, the affidavit states.

Personnel from the US Coast Guard responded to these locations and retrieved seven black duffel bags containing 197 bricks of cocaine weighing 433 pounds, according to the affidavit.

After police read the detainees their Miranda rights, Mr. Reyes Barel waived his right to remain silent and told the agents that he had travelled illegally from Tortola to St. John, according to the affidavit.

Mr. Reyes Barel also claimed that he had paid a boat captain $500 to take him from Tortola to St. John, and from there he was transported to St. Thomas, the affidavit stated.

On the night of his capture, Mr. Reyes-Barel claimed he was taken to a boat in St. Thomas where four men were already on board, and told that he would be transported to Puerto Rico, where he would pay an additional $1,000, according to the affidavit.

Mr. Reyes-Barel also claimed that he did not see anyone load the duffel bags or realise they were already stowed, and that he would have never come aboard if he had known there was cocaine on board, the affidavit states.


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