CHARLOTTE AMALIE — Three Puerto Rican men were caught with at least six figures in cash on board a vessel off the coast of a St. Thomas beach last night, federal authorities said. An additional $1 million in cash was found floating in the water next to the boat.
Jose Ramon Pimentel-Rivera, 29, Jerry Kirkland-Marrero, 29, and Kalihel Ramos de Jesus, 27, each of Puerto Rico, made their initial appearances before United States Magistrate Judge Miller today, U.S. Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert said.
A criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in St. Thomas charges all three with concealing at least $100,000 on board a vessel outfitted for smuggling, in violation of federal law, Shappert said.
According to the affidavit filed in the case, on Tuesday night, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Air and Marine (AMO) agents were on patrol on a vessel near the entrance to Brewer’s Bay, St. Thomas, VI, when they noticed a vessel approaching without its navigation lights illuminated.
The CBP AMO agents initiated a stop of the vessel by engaging the blue lights. In response, the three occupants of the vessel began throwing duffel bags overboard before coming to a stop.
After CBP AMO agents boarded the vessel and detained the three occupants, later identified as Pimentel Rivera, Kirkland-Marrero, and Ramos de Jesus, the agents recovered three duffel bags from the water that had been thrown overboard.
A fourth duffel bag was discovered on the vessel.
Agents estimate that the bags collectively contained at least $3 million dollars. One of the duffel bags was equipped with a GPS tracker.
The vessel, which is registered in Puerto Rico, was outfitted with five fuel tanks.
Meanwhile, a lively discussion of this Virgin Islands Free Press breaking news story continued on social media tonight.
“I read 3 mil. So which is it?” Hortensia Encarnacion asked on Facebook.
“John McCarthy $100,000 is the minimum requirement to trigger this specific 46 U.S. Code § 70503… anything under that doesn’t trigger the statute,” Buck Shatt replied on Facebook.
“Brewers beach cleaning anyone? ” Tetyana Hayes asked on Facebook.
“I think the question to ask is why do three men in Puerto Rico travel by boat to St. Thomas in the USVI during a time of coronavirus? Do they not have sunshine, pretty beaches and marinas in the Emerald Isle? In San Juan? ” Reporter John McCarthy asked on Facebook tonight.
This case is being investigated by CBP and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Meredith Edwards.
A criminal complaint is merely a charging document, and it is not in and of itself evidence of guilt, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Virgin Islands District said.
“Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law,” Shappert said.