The four Guyanese men who were intercepted in a trawler in international waters last year with over four tonnes of cocaine, with an estimated street value of US$71.7 million, have pleaded guilty in a United States federal court and now face up to life in prison, United States Attorney Gretchen Shappert announced on Thursday.
According to a press release, Shappert announced that Mohamed Hoseain, 70, and Richard La Cruz, 51, both of Guyana, pleaded guilty in federal court on November 28th to possession of cocaine on board a vessel. Shappert also further announced that Neville Jeffrey, 66, and Mark Anthony Williams, 32, also of Guyana, pleaded guilty in federal court on November 29th, 2018 and December 3rd, 2018, respectively, to the same offence.
The release said that the plea agreements filed with the court state that the United States Coast Guard Cutter Napier on February 16th, 2017, intercepted a suspicious vessel in a joint operation with the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard, approximately 70 nautical miles north of Paramaribo, Suriname, in international waters.
The vessel, later identified as the Lady Michelle, was located in a “known drug trafficking route and registered with St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”
“The U.S. Coast Guard boarded the vessel pursuant to a bilateral agreement between the United States and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. They discovered 185 bales containing numerous rectangular shaped packages of cocaine in the vessel’s fish hold weighing 3,769 kilogrammes. The drugs had a street value in the U.S. Virgin Islands of approximately 71 million dollars. Hoseain was identified as the captain and claimed that they were in search of a missing vessel for two months. La Cruz was identified as the engineer and Jeffrey and Williams as crew members,” the release further stated.
Apart from facing life in prison, the four also face a fine of up to US$10,000,000.
Hoseain and La Cruz will be sentenced on March 28th, 2019 and March 29th, 2019 respectively while Jeffrey and Williams will be sentenced on April 3rd, 2019.
The cocaine shipment was recently linked to Colombian national Ricardo Ramirez, who was arrested with Guyanese associate Shervington Lovell in Jamaica in October.
Former Customs Anti-Narcotic Unit (CANU) head James Singh recently told Stabroek News that on February 14th, 2017, a wooden vessel, owned by Ramirez, was brought into port at Charity, Essequibo, by CANU to be searched on suspicion that it was believed to be smuggling fuel and drugs. United States Drug Enforcement Authority (DEA) personnel, the police and CANU were present during the search and the vessel was released.
Two days later, the Lady Michelle was intercepted.
Authorities here said that vessel had not been to Guyana since 2013.
About two months after both incidents, in mid-April of 2017, President David Granger ordered a Commission of Inquiry to investigate CANU’s role in the interception and subsequent release of the wooden vessel.
It was believed by local law enforcement that the wooden vessel was used to shuttle cocaine to the trawler.
But Singh told this newspaper that there was no evidence that his agency could have relied on to hold the boat longer and it was forced to release it. “We stopped a boat and searched and that boat was released and two or three days later a trawler was held off the coast. That trawler never came to Guyana. They are totally two different vessels. I acted in [the] confines of the law. Nothing illegal was found on the vessel, so there was no reason to detain it further. You can’t hold something and detain it without evidence,” he said.