Four Guyanese men jailed in St Croix over huge cocaine shipment

The cocaine that was unloaded from the vessel after the interception (WorkBoat.com photo)

Four Guyanese men have been jailed in St Croix, the US Virgin Islands for between 27 and 48 months after pleading guilty in a case pertaining to 3,769 kilos of cocaine which had also raised questions about the performance of anti-drug authorities in Georgetown.

According to a press release on the website of the US Department of Justice,  United States Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert announced yesterday that Neville Jeffrey, 70, Mohamed Hoseain, 66, Richard La Cruz, 51, and Mark Anthony Williams, 32, were sentenced to 48 months, 36 months, 30 months and 27 months respectively for possession of cocaine on board a vessel, by District Court Judge Wilma A. Lewis on March 5, 2019.

The release said that Judge Lewis also sentenced each defendant to two years of supervised release, but ordered that they be deported upon release from incarceration.

Jeffrey, Hoseain, La Cruz and Williams pleaded guilty to cocaine possession charges in November and December of 2018. According to plea agreements filed with the court and statements at the sentencing hearing, the United States Coast Guard Cutter Napier, on February 16, 2017, intercepted a suspicious vessel in a joint operation with the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard approximately seventy nautical miles north of Paramaribo, Suriname, in international waters. The vessel, later identified as the Lady Michelle, was found in a known drug trafficking route and registered with St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The release said that 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 kilograms. The drugs had a street value in the U.S. Virgin Islands of approximately (US) 71 million dollars. Jeffrey and Hoseain functioned as captains. La Cruz was identified as the engineer and Williams as the cook”, the release said.

The case was investigated by the U.S. Coast Guard, the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Alphonso Andrews, Jr.

The cocaine shipment was recently linked to Colombian national Ricardo Ramirez, who was arrested with Guyanese associate Shervington Lovell in Jamaica in October. Lovell is a principal in Tower Suites and is presently before the US courts on a drug conspiracy charge.

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 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.

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