The street value of the cocaine recently seized on Virgin Gorda by the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force (RVIPF) in collaboration with the US Coast Guard has been estimated at $30.9 million.
This was revealed when the four men arrested in connection with the massive drug bust made their appearance in the Magistrate’s Court on Thursday, October 31.
Two local men – 25-year old boat captain Nickel Simon and 36-year old government accountant Cryton Browne – as well as 40-year-old Wilferedo Lopez Vargas and 47-year-old Hober Morillo Ybarbia of Venezuela were all jointly charged with importation of a controlled drug.
The Venezuelans, however, have an additional charge of illegal entry.
Simon pleaded not guilty plea to the offence but his three co-accused reserved their right to plead at another time.
The court heard that on October 27, the RVIPF received information of a vessel docking with a fishing boat about 20 miles north of St Croix in the neighbouring United States Virgin Islands.
The RVIPF along with Her Majesty’s Customs were deployed to Virgin Gorda while the US Coast Guard led a high-speed chase of the accused men on the sea.
It is alleged that during the chase, several suspicious packages were seen being dumped from the vessel while they were being pursued at sea. This was allegedly done at three locations that law enforcers subsequently marked using a global positioning system more commonly known as GPS.
The reported pursuit ended in an area in North Sound, Virgin Gorda where the RVIPF were waiting, the court heard.
The court heard that the men had deboarded their vessel and allegedly attempted to evade law enforcers on foot by running inland. They were, however, captured.
The joint task force operatives from the US and BVI then returned to the locations where the packages were said to be dumped and allegedly recovered 11 bales containing 276 blocks of cocaine weighing 309 kilograms.
Search and interviews
It is reported that the accused quartet was later taken into custody and a search of the boat was conducted. However, nothing illegal was found, the court heard.
The next day, the men were transported to the Road Town Police Station on Tortola where they were interviewed under caution and charged.
‘Suspicious’ items at accused man’s home
The court further heard that a search warrant was executed at the homes of the accused local men.
Nothing illegal was found at Simon’s home. However, it is alleged that a money counting machine, a vacuum sealer among other items were found at Browne’s temporary home in Cane Garden Bay. Browne is from Virgin Gorda.
The Crown made no objection to bail for the local men but objected to bail for the Venezuelans because they had no fixed place of abode and no status in the territory.
As such, Magistrate Ayanna Baptiste-DaBreo offered $500,000 bail to the local men. Of that bail amount, the court ordered that $100,000 had to be in cash and the remaining $400,000 signed with sureties.
As part of their bail conditions, they are to surrender their travel documents and report to the police station every Monday, Wednesday and Friday between 6 am and 6 pm.
Defence attorneys Patrick Thompson and Reynela Rawlins represents Simon, while attorney-at-law Leroy Jones represented Browne, Vargas and Ybarbia.
The accused quartet’s respective matters were adjourned to November 26.
Notably, a previous RVIPF media release said the men were charged with possession of a controlled drug with intent to supply, engagement in smuggling a controlled drug, and human trafficking.
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