L-R: Gerry Freeman, James Telesforde John, Hugh Chris Erickson, Jomo Jack and Leon King
Photo Credit: Gordon French/BVI Platinum News
James Telesforde John, one of the five men charged in connection with the cruise ship dock interception has allegedly admitted to Police of having a deal in place to sell cocaine to the other four men charged in the case, but the deal was thwarted by Police.
The five men, John, 62, a captain from Newbush, Tortola; Jomo Jolan Jack, a 28 year-old trucker from St. Vincent; Hugh 'Chris' Erickson, a 42 year-old a self employed man from West End; Leon King, a 31 year-old captain from Cane Garden Bay; and Gerry Freeman, a 48 year-old unemployed man from St. Thomas all pleaded not guilty to drug and money laundering offenses in relation to 114 kilograms of cocaine with a street value of $11.4M, and a total of $688,465.00 cash which was recovered.
Attorney-at-Law Anthea Smith of JS Archibald & Co. appeared for Erickson and Freeman, while Attorney-at-Law Stephen Daniels appeared for John, Jack and King.
Senior Crown Counsel Valston Graham from the outset said the crown was objecting to bail for all five men.
Graham, after laying out the allegations against the men, told the court that John, Jack and Freeman are a flight risk, noting that John and Jack are from St. Vincent and Jack's sole purpose for coming to the BVI was to carry out his drug trade, therefore there is no incentive for him to remain in the Territory.
In relation to John, the Prosecutor said the crown accepts that he has been living in the Territory for quite some time, but they believe that the charges he is facing would be a motivation for him to try to leave the Territory if given bail.
Graham said King on the other hand has a similar charge of money laundering in relation to over $120,000.00 for which he was granted bail earlier this year. He said while there are only allegations against King at this time, they believe that there is a high possibility of him re-offending.
He also noted the seriousness of the offenses.
Graham cited comments from the Privy Council and said that strong community ties must be balanced with the public's interest when it comes to matters such as these. Graham further noted that persons who allegedly have access to such large amounts of money can easily flee, arguing that the crown does not believe that the court can impose sufficient conditions that can ensure that the defendants appear to answer their charges after given bail. He said the case against the men is compelling.
Graham noted that the Police believe that there are more drugs "out there" in relation to the case and they are actively investigating. To this end, he cited the risk of possible interference if the men are granted bail.
He told the court that the cellular phones which were found in possession of the men show interactions between the telephone numbers, including via text and blackberry messages.
Attorney-at-Law, Daniels said he will defer his bail applications for John and Jack to a later date; however, in relation to King, he said King has no previous or similar convictions. He said the charges, though serious, are bailable.
Daniels said King was charged with a similar offense; however, he has been abiding by the conditions and has been attending court.
Lawyer Smith also deferred her bail application for Freeman to a later date and in relation to Erickson, she said he is the father of six children who he supports. She said three of them are minors.
Smith further stated that Erickson, who has worked with Cable & Wireless for several years, some eight years ago branched out to his own business - Quality Communications. Smith said her client has significant financial obligations with two banks on Tortola and there is a balance of $200,000 loan for which he is solely responsible for repaying on a monthly basis. She said her client is not a flight risk.
Magistrate Tamia Richards took close to an hour break after hearing from both sides of the bar and ruled that she will not grant bail to Erickson and King.
The Magistrate said the case against the men appears to be very strong since they were allegedly caught red-handed. She commented that the money involved is not loose change, even for Mitt Romney. She said it would appear from the allegations that the men have connections to the underworld.
Magistrate Richards said the question is what amount of bail the court could set to ensure that the men appear in court to answer to the charges, given that they allegedly have access to large amounts of money.
The Magistrate then remanded all five men to prison.
Graham told the court that they are sending the cellular phones to the United Kingdom for examination.
Meanwhile, following an application, the Magistrate ordered that the $688,465 be detained.
The men will return to court on September 25.
John was slapped with five charges - unlawful possession of importation of cocaine [114 kilograms]; possession of proceeds of criminal conduct [$391,780.00]; possession of proceeds of criminal conduct [$176,060.00]; possession of proceeds of criminal conduct [$81,585.00]; and unlawful possession of cocaine with intent to supply [114 kilograms].
Jack and King are jointly charged with possession of proceeds of criminal conduct [$178,060]; Erickson and Freeman are jointly charged with possession of proceeds of criminal conduct [$37,040]; John, Jack and King are jointly charged with possession of proceeds of criminal conduct [$178,060]; and John and Jack are jointly charged with conspiracy to import cocaine [114 kilograms].
Meanwhile, all five men are jointly charged with assisting another to retain the business of criminal conduct [$688,465.00]; unlawful possession of cocaine with intent to supply [114 kilograms]; and being concerned with the supply of a controlled drug.
In laying out the circumstances surrounding the arrests and charges, Prosecutor Graham told the court that the matter surrounds an investigation into drug importation and money laundering where the men allegedly formed a conspiracy to import cocaine and to launder the proceeds of crime.
It is alleged that on August 8, members of the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force (RVIPF) received intelligence that Jack had entered the Territory from Antigua at Beef Island Airport. Graham said Police believe that his visit was in no way to take part in the Emancipation celebrations, but rather he came to shepherd the sale of cocaine.
Graham said armed with the information, Police followed him and later that day observed he had a meeting with King in town. Jack had reservations at the Fort Burt Hotel.
Graham said King was driving a bronze Kia vehicle #PI 203. He stated that on August 9, the surveillance continued where Police observed the same Kia jeep exiting the parking lot of Fort Burt Hotel and drove to the car park adjacent to the Central Administration Complex.
The Kia jeep parked next to a Rav4 #PV 13225 and there, the drivers of both vehicles then got out and stood at the rear of the Rav4 vehicle and appeared to have been conducting an inspection. They all got into their respective vehicles and drove off in different directions. At the time, the drivers were not identified by Police due to the distance from which the observation was being conducted.
On Friday, August 10 around 11:30 am, the Kia #PI 203, driven by King and Jack in the front passenger seat, entered the same car park at the admin building in the area of the cruise ship dock. There, they allegedly met with the driver of the same Rav4 and on this occasion, Police Officers identified the driver of that vehicle to be John. He then got into the Kia jeep and the vehicle moved off towards the exit at the east of the admin building.
Graham said at the same time the meeting between King, Jack and John was taking place, Police observed a Toyota Tundra truck #PM 81 in the same neighborhood being driven by Erickson, who was accompanied by Freeman. It is alleged that Erickson and Freeman appeared to have been observing the meeting between Jack, John and King.
Police Officers, who suspected that a drug transaction had taken place, decided to intercept the vehicles and attempted to stop the Kia jeep as it travelled across the car park. The jeep then accelerated and attempted to outrun the Police in the car park. Other Police vehicles attended the scene and the Kia jeep was stopped after colliding with an unmarked Police vehicle.
Officers then searched the Kia jeep where they found a hold-all bag which contained some $178,060; and John's Rav4 was searched where $80,000 was retrieved.
Graham said Erickson, after observing that the two vehicles were intercepted, sped away; however, officers contacted their counterparts at the different locations and Erickson was intercepted in the Frenchman's Cay area. He said Freeman was still with Erickson and $37,040 cash was recovered from the jeep.
A search warrant was then obtained for John's residence and according to Graham, John told Police that he had large amount of money at his home.
During the search, where John was present, Police found $391,780 in a cardboard box in the clothes closet. It is alleged that John admitted to Police that the monies were the product of selling drugs.
Upon further search, Police found two large canvas bags with a cardboard box on top of them and inside there were 10 kilo blocks of cocaine and the box was marked with the number 10 in red marker pen. The two large canvas bags were opened and they contained 30 kilo blocks of cocaine in each bag with the number 30 written in a dark marker pen on the top of each bag. Four more boxes were found, bringing the total to 114 kilos of cocaine.
Graham said it is alleged that John told Police that he recently received a load of 147 kilos of cocaine at Beef Island dock. He said that he was contacted by a Colombian that he doesn't know.
It is also alleged that he told Police that he already sold 36 kilos of cocaine and the monies found at the residence was from the cocaine he sold.
It is further alleged that he told Police he sold the kilos of cocaine at $11,000 per kilo.
Graham told the court that it is alleged that John told Police that the 70 kilos of cocaine which were found together were to be sold to Erickson, Freeman, Jack and King. Graham said John stated that the cocaine was to be distributed to them; however, the meeting which Police interrupted was to confirm whether they had the money to back their word.
Meanwhile, also found at John's residence was a $508.00 receipt for gas on August 6 for boat fuel purchased at Bobby's Marine, St. Maarten. It is alleged that John told Police that the Colombians who delivered the drugs to him on the Monday had given him the receipt.
Additionally, a roll of black packing tape, similar to that on the marked boxes was found in the laundry room and a red marker was found in the lounge area.
Prosecutor Graham told the court that Police is alleging that there are other drugs outstanding that they have not yet recovered and investigations are continuing.