PHILIPSBURG–Two men were sentenced by the Court of First Instance in June to five-year prison sentences for the smuggling of 250 kilos of cocaine. Their appeal cases were heard by the Joint Court of Justice on Thursday.
The drugs were found by Coast Guard officials on board a vessel south of St. Eustatius on January 21. That evening, around 8:00, the Coast Guard’s Dash-8 patrol aircraft detected two suspicious vessels. Coast Guard frigate Holland immediately set course to the indicated position, while the aircraft remained to monitor the vessels.
When authorities spotted the offloading of suspected smuggled goods onto a go-fast boat, two fast raiding interception and Special Forces craft (FRISCs) were launched from the Holland.
After a high-speed chase, the FRISCS and the Dash-8 managed to bring the go-fast to a stop. The three crew members were arrested and the contraband seized. The other boat got away.
The Navy ship took the vessel used by the smugglers in tow and carried the drug traffickers, the seized bales and the vessel to St. Maarten.
The vessel with the expired registration SX4221 belonged to Danny O. Griffith Vicente (26). The resident of Marigot, who is a fisherman by profession, said an elderly man had offered him US $10,000 for the trip.
He denied any knowledge of the drugs, but told the Court of Appeals that he knew he was doing something illegal. “I suspected it was something bad. I needed the money to buy a present for my daughter,” he stated.
Co-defendant Reyes Luis (51) denied any knowledge of the 11 packages of cocaine, which were found on the ship’s bow under a yellow fishing net.
He said he was asked to come along for a recreational fishing trip. He said he fell ill and claimed he was asleep when the Coast Guard intercepted the vessel and had no recollection of any drug overload.
Darwin J. Cedeño (31) was the only suspect who came clean about his role in the illegal transport. The unemployed father of seven from Venezuela had told the Court of First Instance that he was under the impression that he was assisting in an illegal money transport. He did not file for appeal.
The Prosecutor in the initial case had called for a conviction of all three suspects demanding six years for Cedeño, seven years for Luis and eight years for Griffith, whom he held for the main player in this leg of the drug transport from South-America to North-America.
The Solicitor General took a different position in this case and demanded seven years for both defendants.
Attorney Shaira Bommel maintained Reyes’ innocence in stating that her client was a recreational fisherman and said there was no evidence that he knew there was cocaine on board.
The lawyer also contested the amount of cocaine that was found, as only a small number of the confiscated packages were tested for drugs. She also pleaded for a lesser sentence.
Attorney Jairo Bloem said his client had filed for appeal to obtain a lesser sentence, but he also called the Court’s attention to several “technical details” in this case.
First, Bloem claimed that according to him the Coast Guard had no power in the international waters where the arrest was made.
The Solicitor General agreed that the vessel was not held in territorial waters, but said the Coast Guard had jurisdiction on the location, which was 15 sea miles off St. Kitts, 14 miles off St. Eustatius and 45 miles off St. Maarten. Furthermore, the Coast Guard had lawfully taken the vessel to its homeport St. Maarten, the Solicitor General said.
Attorney Bloem also put question marks behind the exact amount of cocaine that was confiscated. The Joint Court will give its decision December 7.