Dexter Valenzuela, one of the nine men arrested on Tuesday on the Barima River, North West, with a quantity of illegal items, including high-powered rifles, was yesterday sentenced to three years in jail after admitting to illegal possession of an AR-15 rifle and matching ammunition, which he claimed he bought for his protection.
Only Valenzuela, 44, of Crane, West Coast Demerara, was brought before Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan in Georgetown, where he was faced with five charges. The eight other men, including three foreign nationals, remain in custody as police are working to determine whether charges are to be laid against them.
It was alleged that on October 24, at Barima River, North West, Valenzuela had an AR-15 rifle in his possession without being the holder of a firearm licence. It is also alleged that he had 5 .223 live rounds of ammunition, again while not being the holder of a firearm licence.
Valenzuela was also charged with having an AK-47 rifle, although he was not a licensed firearm holder. He was charged also with having 14 7.62 x 39 live rounds of ammunition
Finally, he was also read a charge for having 1.5 kilos of cannabis in his possession for trafficking.
After the charges were read, Valenzuela, who transports fuel for a living, pleaded guilty to all of them, except for possession of the AK-47 rifle.
Police Prosecutor Arvin Moore told the court that on the day in question, the police, acting on information received, went along with Guyana Defence Force Coast Guard ranks to the Barima River mouth, where they intercepted two boats heading in the opposite direction. The vessels were stopped and a search was conducted on the vessels and their occupants.
During the search of Valenzuela’s boat, of which he was the captain, the AR-15 rifle, the ammunition, and the cannabis, which was in a shoulder bag, were found.
The items, according to the prosecutor, were shown to the accused, who admitted ownership of them. Moore also said that Valenzuela gave a caution statement admitting that the items belonged to him.
However, when granted the opportunity to address the court, Valenzuela said he bought the AR-15 rifle and the matching ammunition for his protection. He said that his boat was robbed about five months ago while on the way to Venezuela. He added that sometime after, when he went to Venezuela to recover the boat, he bought the weapon and the ammunition.
He told the court that the other articles that were found did not belong to him. He said they belonged to someone who had asked him to carry the bag.
After his explanation, Chief Magistrate McLennan recorded a not guilty plea for all the charges, except for the possession of the AR-15 rifle and the .223 rounds. He was then sentenced to three years in jail and fined $60,000 for each of the two offences. He will only serve three years as the sentences will run concurrently. However, the total fine is $120,000.
The proceedings for the other charges against Valenzuela were adjourned until November 21, when they will be heard at the Mabaruma Magistrate’s Court.
Meanwhile, acting Crime Chief Paul Williams told Stabroek News yesterday that the eight others were still being questioned by ranks of the Criminal Investigation Department’s Major Crimes Unit and checks are being made to determine if they were involved in any crimes
The eight others in custody are: Junior Jack, 19, a resident of North West District; Dunstant Rodrigues, of Moruca; Shawn Phang, 49, of Port Kaituma; Corvin Griffith, 48, of Grove, East Bank Demerara; Carrington Khan, 62; Cuban national Samuel Alvarez, 25; Venezuelan national Rafael Ramon, 37; and Jamaican national Delroy Mairs, 53, who is also of Albouystown.
As it relates to the foreign nationals, Williams said that police were also trying to determine whether the men are in Guyana legally.
The men were all arrested on Tuesday after the police acted on information they received that a gang of armed men were spotted acting suspiciously. The men were reportedly on the radar of the authorities since Monday evening.
A search was conducted on their boats and the AR-15 and AK-47 rifles, two magazines, nineteen live rounds of ammunition, a bullet proof vest and 1.5 kilos of cannabis were uncovered.
The two boats, a fibre glass boat and an aluminum boat with 250 hp and 48 hp engines, respectively, were also impounded. The fibre glass boat, which had four occupants, was towing the other vessel, which was transporting five passengers.
“These arrests are very significant as several weeks ago there were reports of piracy in the Waini River area, several miles from the Police Floating Base MV Tamakay,” the police had said after the arrests.
(Additional reporting by Sharda Bacchus)