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BVI Boat Captain Who Threw Cell Phone Off Boat To Avoid Illegal Alien Smuggling Charge Gets No Jail Time

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — A BVI boat captain who was caught smuggling illegal aliens into the U.S. Virgin Islands has been given no jail time by a federal judge after pleading guilty to a lesser included charge.

Juwon Cordelle Potter, 25, of Road Town, Tortola, was sentenced to one year probation and ordered to pay $2,000 for illegally entering the United States, U.S. Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert said.

Potter was tried for destruction of evidence, illegally bringing in an undocumented noncitizen and illegally entering the United States, Shappert said.

According to court documents and evidence presented a trial, Potter was stopped by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Marine Interdiction agents (MIA) and a special agent from Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) during marine patrol of the waters between St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands and Norman Island, British Virgin Islands.

Potter was the captain of a vessel traveling away from Coral Bay, St. John just before dusk. The defendant could not produce any personal identification or documentation for his vessel, nor could he explain his presence in U.S. waters.

The BVI native indicated that he was returning to the British Virgin Islands and drifted into U.S. waters when his vessel had engine trouble. During the vessel inspection, the defendant was asked if he had a phone. Potter unlocked his phone and handed it to the agents.

Upon examining the phone, the HSI special agent observed a WhatsApp text message exchange between Potter and an unknown individual. In the text exchange, the agent saw photos of two males and a message sent from Potter stating, “just the two men?” and “send 2000 WU to Juwon Potter.”

Potter was arrested for illegal migrant smuggling.

An agent placed Potter’s phone on a work bench attached to the center console of the CBP vessel. Potter was in the act of being moved to a seat behind the work bench in order to return to shore when he lunged for the phone and threw it overboard.

The agent heard a splash and saw the phone’s illuminated screen sink beneath the surface of the water. Subsequent to Potter’s arrest,

CBP agents detained an undocumented noncitizen male matching the photo (wearing the same clothes) that the agent saw on Potter’s phone.

A federal jury acquitted Potter of destruction of evidence and alien smuggling and returned a guilty verdict for illegally entering the United States.

This case was investigated by HSI and CBP.

By John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.