Sept. 3, 2004 If you are an air traveler who routinely fears that your luggage won't reach your destination with you, your confidence won't be buoyed by the news that ten St. Thomas men with ties to the Cyril E. King Airport have been indicted on drug charges. Most of the men were baggage handlers or had ties to luggage shipment. One is a manager of an inter-island commuter airline, Air Sunshine.
Acting U.S. Attorney Anthony Jenkins Friday said the ten have been charged with one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute both cocaine and heroin and ten counts of possession with intent to distribute illegal narcotics.
"Nine of the 10 defendants named in the indictment, handed up by the grand jury on Thursday, have been arrested," Jenkins said. He noted that several appeared before a Magistrate Judge Geoffrey Barnard for initial court hearings Friday afternoon.
The defendants facing federal charges include: Dion Brookes, 37; Mervin Dorival, 39; Robert Rawlins, 25; Bernard Gabriel, 39; Clyde Edinborough, Jr. 35; Meleek Sylvester, 32; Danny Rawlins, 42; Brent Donovan, 30; and Stefon Wilson, 39. One of the suspects was not identified pending his arrest.
The arrests stemmed from a year-long investigation into narcotics trafficking at the St. Thomas airport. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency and the Drug Enforcement Administration led the investigation. Jenkins said all the defendants are alleged to have helped ship narcotics to the U.S. mainland. "They utilized the airport by loading commercial airplanes with suitcases containing narcotics."
The indictment charges that the defendants would remove computer-generated baggage tags from checked luggage of legitimate passengers and place those tags on the defendants' unchecked bags containing narcotics.
At times, the defendants would travel and then be able to retrieve the bag containing narcotics when it arrived at its destination. When a conspirator traveled, the drugs were placed inside his checked luggage and then loaded onto the airplane.
Brookes is alleged to have used his position as manager for Air Sunshine to arrange drug shipments, store drugs in the Air Sunshine office and load the drugs onto the airlines luggage belt.
The indictment did not name anyone receiving the drugs, but said the drugs went to Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.
Jenkins emphasized that the indictment is merely a formal charging document and that all the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until guilt is established at a trial.
The indictment detailed the following allegations.
– In November 2002, Gabriel transported a kilogram of cocaine to New York inside a suitcase. A month later, he moved a kilogram of cocaine to Pennsylvania and in January 2003, he transported six kilograms of cocaine to New York.
– On Dec. 19, 2003, Brookes agreed to assist in transporting six kilograms of cocaine from St. Thomas to Miami for a fee of $3,000. The day after, Brookes was advised that there was only five kilos to transport. He reduced his fee to $2,500.
– On Dec. 20, 2003, Brookes received a suitcase he believed to contain five kilograms of cocaine. The unnamed defendant provided the false baggage tag to attach to the suitcase containing cocaine. Brookes placed the false tag on the bag and stored it in his office at Air Sunshine until it was time for the bag to be loaded onto the aircraft.
– Two days later on Dec. 22, 2003, Brookes was paid $2,500 for his role in transporting the suitcase of cocaine to Miami.
– On Feb. 21, 2004, Brookes instructed Donovan, a baggage handler, to retrieve a bag tag from checked luggage so Brookes could attach the tag to a suitcase containing cocaine.
Donovan provided the tag to Brookes who placed it on a bag and instructed Rawlins to load the bag onto the airplane.
– On March 10, 2004, Gabriel and Rawlins acted as lookouts while Sylvester loaded narcotics into a suitcase that was placed on Continental Airlines, Flight 1902, destined for New Jersey.
– On April 26, 2004, Brookes agreed to assist in transporting cocaine through the St. Thomas airport on May 1. The day before the shipment, on May 30, Brookes agreed to assist in transporting heroin in addition to the cocaine for an additional fee of $5,000. Brookes, according to the indictment, said the additional fee was necessary because "heroin is big league stuff."
– On May 1, Brookes and Rawlins attempted to transport cocaine and heroin through the St. Thomas airport on board American Flight 412 destined for New York.
– On May 26, 2004, Rawlins agreed to assist in transporting a shipment of cocaine and heroin through the St. Thomas airport.
– On June 30, 2004, Edinborough, Jr. agreed to provide Rawlins with more narcotics to smuggle through St. Thomas airport.
– On Aug. 24, 2004, Wilson agreed to assist in transporting a shipment of cocaine through the St. Thomas airport.
Each defendant faces a potential minimum term of imprisonment of ten years but Jenkins said each could receive a life sentence and a $5 million fine. Other law enforcement agencies, which assisted in the drug investigation and subsequent arrests include: Customs and Border Protection, V. I. Police Department, Transportation Security Administration and the V.I. Port Authority.
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