PHILIPSBURG–Three men were sentenced Wednesday by the Court of First Instance to five-year prison sentences for the smuggling of 250 kilos of cocaine. The drugs were found by Coast Guard officials on board a vessel south of St. Eustatius on January 21, around 8:00pm.
That evening, 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 registration SX4221 belonged to Danny O. Griffith Vicente (25). The resident of Marigot, who is a fisherman by profession, said an elderly man had offered him US $10,000 for the trip. He told the Court he did not know the man’s name and telephone number.
He denied any knowledge of the drugs, but told the Judge that he knew he was doing something illegal. “I suspected it was something bad, but did not ask any questions. I needed the money. This is the first time I was involved in things like that,” Griffith said.
He declined to tell the Court anything about his co-defendants in fearing for his family’s safety.
Co-defendant Luis Reyes (49) denied any knowledge of the 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 after drinking a glass of milk and claimed he was asleep when the Coast Guard intercepted the vessel.
Darwin J. Cedeño (31) was, according to the Prosecutor, the only suspect who came clean about his role in the illegal transport. The unemployed father of seven from Venezuela told the Court that he was under the impression that he was assisting in an illegal money transport.
The Prosecutor called for a conviction of all three suspects, demanding six years for Cedeño, seven years for Reyes 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.
‘Threat to legal state’
The Prosecutor said a lot of money is involved in the drug trade, which he called a “threat to the legal state.” He calculated that a kilo of raw cocaine, which cost approximately US $1,800, is sold for US $30,000 in New York and for between US $60,000 and US $70,000 in the Netherlands.
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. She pleaded for his full acquittal and said the Prosecutor’s demand was too high.
Bommel contested the amount of cocaine that was found, as only a small number of the confiscated bales were actually tested for drugs.
Her colleague Geert Hatzmann said the case against Cedeño was simple and his story not untrustworthy. He pleaded for a lesser sentence of four years for the Venezuelan, two of which were to be suspended.
Attorney Jairo Bloem called upon the Court to declare the Prosecutor’s case against Griffith inadmissible, due to what he considered the illegal search of his client’s boat and because his client had been kept in restraint for 44 days without any contact with his lawyer or his family.
He said the evidence presented against his client was “too meagre” for a conviction and described the Coast Guard arrest as a “lucky find.”
The Judge did not find any irregularities and rejected the inadmissibility pleadings. He also stated that sufficient drug samples were investigated by Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI) to consider the alleged amount proven.
The Judge said Cedeño and Griffith had been deliberately involved in the drug-trafficking operation for their own financial gain.
He did not buy Reyes’ story that he was a fisherman who accidentally was on board. “He must have known for which purpose he was on board in a deliberate and close cooperation with his fellow defendants,” the Judge stated.
He described the three as “drug mules,” and called them “indispensable links” in the drug trade. Taking their personal circumstances into consideration, the Court imposed lesser sentences in comparison with the Prosecutor’s demand.
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/66864-three-cocaine-smugglers-receive-five-year-sentences