Nearly half of all V.I. criminal cases filed in U.S. District Court in the first four months of 2016 – nine out of 19 cases, not counting duplicative filings – are for smuggling marijuana from the U.S. into St. Thomas, with eight of the nine being travelers busted at the airport with pot in suitcases. If you only look at cases involving crimes that took place in 2016, eight out of 14 federal cases were travelers smuggling pot in their checked luggage.
Every year sees several arrests at the Cyril E. King Airport of passengers with marijuana in their luggage. But whether due to heightened enforcement or more people trying, the eight cases in four months is much more than usual, and a much higher proportion of cases than, for instance, in 2015.
In contrast, a scan of federal criminal cases for 2015 turned up only two arrests of travelers trying to smuggle marijuana in their suitcases all year – both also on St. Thomas.
On Jan. 30, police busted Deonte Demari Bailey, who showed a Michigan State University ID, for allegedly bringing 21.1 kilos to St. Thomas on a flight from Las Vegas.
On March 2, Deangelia Quintana was arrested with police saying they found 23.4 kilos of marijuana in her suitcase – about 50 pounds, or the weight of a sack of cement – on a flight to St. Thomas from Atlanta.
On March 25, Daniell Sherre Combs and C’Quan Jamoi Celestine were both charged with bringing in marijuana to St. Thomas from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. According to police, officers "smelled the odor of marijuana emanating from the bags" and got a police dog, which also indicated contraband, leading to a search.
Police say Celestine had one kilo of marijuana and four 4-ounce bottles of hash oil. Combs allegedly had one kilo of marijuana and "baked goods laced with marijuana."
"Combs stated that she is a farmer in Atlanta and that she and (Celestine) were coming to St. Thomas to stay for about a month," an officer said in an affidavit in support of the arrest. "She stated that the marijuana was for her consumption. … Based on my training and experience, the amount of marijuana and hashish oil, the baked goods and the packaging of the items are indicative of distribution and not personal consumption," the arresting officer said in the affidavit.
On April 4, Bert Donadelle, traveling from Atlanta to St. Thomas, was flagged after a police dog "alerted positively" to controlled substances. According to the officers’ arrest affidavit, his bags had eight kilos of marijuana.
On April 6, Sierra Wimberly was charged with carrying 4.6 kilos, flying from Atlanta to St. Thomas. Her traveling companion, Noelle Bishopel, was found with 10.25 kilos in his suitcase, according to court documents.
The two were flagged as possible smugglers based on their "travel pattern/history," according to the arrest affidavit.
On April 19, Kennan Powell-Ryder arrived on a flight to St. Thomas from Atlanta. According to police, Powell-Ryder had 15 kilos of marijuana in a checked bag.
All in all, police have confiscated about 90 kilos from air passengers on St. Thomas so far this year.
Meanwhile, Larry Thompson entered a plea agreement April 20 for smuggling a larger amount of marijuana to St. Thomas by ship, from 2012 through 2013. According to his plea agreement, Thompson shipped "barrels of marijuana concealed in Chow Mein cans” from Los Angeles to St. Thomas.
Not counting repetitive filings for the same events, of the remaining 10 federal criminal cases filed so far in 2016:
– one is an attempted homicide over a debt involving someone apparently dealing marijuana;
– one is an attempted cocaine purchase on St. Thomas;
– three are corrections officers charged this year for smuggling contraband into the Golden Grove prison in 2013;
– two are firearms violations;
– one is a child pornography case;
– one is child sex trafficking;
– one is an immigration case;
– and one includes charges against Terminix over violations of pesticide laws.
In contrast, a large proportion of all 2015 cases were for immigration violations or for subpoenas in relation to immigration violations, with firearms violations coming in second.
At least two people were indicted that year for trying to ship marijuana into the territory, one by mail and one by shipping. And one person was busted selling marijuana near a school.
There were also several cocaine smuggling cases and one small-time dealer bust in Christiansted.
The sharp increase in medium-sized federal marijuana smuggling arrests at the St. Thomas airport comes as five jurisdictions: four states and Washington, D.C., have legalized recreational use and 20 more have ballot questions on legalization in 2016. According to USA Today, as many as 11 more states may legalize this year. A recent Gallup poll found 58 percent of Americans support legalization.