Photo Credit: BVI Platinum News
Immigration Officer, Walter Maduro will stand trial in November in relation to his alleged role in a drug and money laundering ring. Maduro is charged with five counts of using his public office for gratification and five counts of breach of trust.
During his court appearance yesterday, September 11, the prosecution and defence agreed to November 7 as the date for commencement of the trial. The crown will be calling five witnesses.
Maduro of Belle Vue, who has been working with the Immigration Department for seven years, remains on bail. He is represented by Attorney-at-Law Ruthilia Maximea.
In September of last year during his arraignment, Prosecutor Christlyn Benjamin said Maduro was attached to the Road Town Ferry Terminal and he was responsible for clearing vessels and persons coming into Road Town, including cruise ship passengers. She said he had access to paperwork and stamps of the Immigration Department.
Benjamin noted that the department has a policy where all immigration stamps must be kept at the office; however, if an officer has to clear a cruise ship on an early morning, that officer will take home stamps to facilitate in the latter. She said the officer, however, has to return those remaining stamps the morning on completion of the job.
At the time, the court heard that on September 15, officers of the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force (RVIPF) executed a warrant at Maduro's home where they seized two laptops, two immigration stamps, one entry and date stamp, along with other items. She said the date stamps were shown to Chief Immigration Officer Dennis Jennings and he confirmed that they were genuine. He also noted that Maduro, from August 29, went on leave and was still on vacation at the time; hence, there was no reason why he should have had those stamps at his home.
Maduro's charges relate to two incidences where BVI Immigration entry stamps were placed into forged Venezuelan passports on June 5, 2010 and on June 29, 2010 at the Road Town Ferry Terminal.
Benjamin said the investigation goes back to July 4, 2010 when the RVIPF executed a search warrant at the home of Earl Hodge, known as Bob Hodge. At the home, two persons were found with Venezuelan passports with their pictures; however, upon investigation, it was revealed that the male was a Colombian national and the female was a Dominican Republican native. The two gave Police their real names and admitted that the passports were forged.
Benjamin said upon examination, both passports bore entry permit stamps for June 29, 2010 and June 5, 2010. It is alleged that Maduro signed those stamps. As a result, Maduro was interviewed by Police on July 5 where he gave a witness statement. He said sometime in June he was approached by Customs Officer, Roberto 'Tico' Harrigan to clear a sea vessel 'Blue Clouds' with persons aboard that vessel.
Another vessel was cleared at Nanny Cay on June 28, 2010 and the Colombian man and DR woman were taken to the Road Town Terminal in a K-9 Customs vehicle by 'Tico' and told to stay in the vehicle. 'Tico' then took the passports from the persons inside the terminal and returned with them. This time, they bore entry permit stamps allegedly signed by Maduro.
The Colombian man said later, his boss Roberto Mendez-Hurtado arrived via a boat from Antigua. He said his boss is the owner of 'Blue Clouds' and upon arrival, they went to Bob Hodge's home at Great Mountain. There, they gave 'Tico' four passports and later that day 'Tico' returned the passports with entry permit stamps.
They allegedly paid 'Tico' $200.00 - $400.00 for each passport to be stamped.
The Colombian man and DR woman were sentenced to 18 months in prison for illegal entry in July of last year.
Benjamin said during a cautioned interview upon his arrest, Maduro said he did not receive any payments from 'Tico' and believed that he has made some mistakes.
She said he also denied being part of any drug trafficking or money laundering ring.
In relation to having the stamps at his home while on vacation, Maduro said he believed that he was allowed to keep the stamps at his home.
Benjamin said the Chief Immigration Officer also stated that in order for a vessel to be cleared, it is required that the members of the crew be present and also, unless authorized by the Governor, the officer will not be allowed to provide papers for clearance.