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Coast Guard Searches For People In The Water After Boat Capsizes Off Shacks Beach In Isabela

SAN JUAN — Coast Guard aircrews and local emergency authorities are searching for possible persons in the water, following the capsizing of a makeshift boat, about 75 yards off Shacks Beach in Isabela, Puerto Rico.

Coast Guard watchstanders in San Juan received a 911 call at 12:58 a.m. today, reporting people in the water from a possible overturned vessel that was taking part in an illegal voyage smuggling people to the island, and that multiple persons were observed running inland from the water.  Watchstanders directed the launch of an Air Station Borinquen MH-60T Jayhawk helicopter from Air Station Borinquen to search for any additional survivors.

Coast Guard Searches For People In The Water After Boat Capsizes Off Shacks Beach In Isabela

Border Patrol authorities reported apprehending 12 persons from this illegal voyage, their nationalities are being determined. 

Initial statements received from the survivors state there were 27 persons aboard the vessel before it capsized. Border Patrol authorities continue to work to determine how many people were actually on the vessel and how many others made it safely to shore.

Coast Guard Searches For People In The Water After Boat Capsizes Off Shacks Beach In Isabela
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4 Men In U.S. Customs Custody After Disabled Fishing Vessel Takes On Water

SAN JUAN — Coast Guard air and surface units ended the search for an overdue 20-foot blue and white boat Monday afternoon, after the vessel was found ashore near Punta Salinas in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico.

Four men are reportedly in the custody of the U.S. Border Patrol as their nationalities and the rest of the circumstances surrounding this case are under investigation.  

“Given the predominant harsh weather conditions that exist in the waters surrounding Puerto Rico, these men are extremely fortunate,” said Cmdr Beau Powers, Sector San Juan chief of response.  “This vessel was not equipped with adequate life-saving equipment and the situation nearly resulted in a tragedy. The Coast Guard appreciates the support and diligence of the U.S. Border Patrol in their efforts to help us resolve this case”.

Initially, the case was reported to the Coast Guard Monday morning as three men aboard a fishing boat that was disabled and taking on water, approximately 20 nautical miles north of Vega Baja and Dorado, Puerto Rico.

Coast Guard watchstanders in Sector San Juan received a call from a 911 Emergency Service operator, who relayed a call reporting the distress.

Coast Guard assets involved in the search were:

  • Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Air Station Borinquen in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico.
  • Coast Guard Cutter Jospeh Doyle, a 154-foot fast response cutter homeported in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
  • Coast Guard Station 45-foot Response Boat Medium from Boat Station San Juan.
  • Coast Guard HC-130 aircraft from Air Station Clearwater, Florida
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Orlando Man Gets 3 Years In Prison For Smuggling 30 Pounds Of Ganja Into STT

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — A Florida habitual offender was given more than three years in prison by a federal judge for smuggling at least 27.8 pounds of marijuana into the territory, authorities said.

Marvin Forbes, 49, from Orlando, was sentenced to 37 months of incarceration by Chief U.S. District Court Judge Robert A. Molloy on his conviction of possession with intent to distribute marijuana after qualifying as a career offender in federal court, U.S. Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert said.

According to court documents, on June 19, 2020, Forbes arrived at the Cyril E. King Airport in St. Thomas on Spirit Airlines flight #1610 which departed from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Upon arrival in St. Thomas, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers conducted an inspection of Spirit Airline’s checked bags. CBP K-9 “Sherpa” later alerted to the presence of narcotics in Forbes’ checked bag.

After Forbes removed his bag from the baggage claim belt, CBP officers escorted him to secondary for inspection. In secondary, CBP officers cut a lock that was placed on Forbes’ suitcase after he failed to produce the key to open the lock. Inside Forbes’ suitcase, CBP officers discovered eight (8) vacuum sealed packages, each containing multiple smaller, individually vacuum sealed packages, of marijuana with a total weight of 12.61 kilograms.

Forbes entered a guilty plea in U.S. District Court on May 17, 2021.

At sentencing, Forbes qualified as a career offender pursuant to the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines based on the facts that: (1) he was at least 18 years old at the time he committed the offense of conviction; (2) his conviction is a felony that is either a crime of violence or a controlled substance offense; and (3) Forbes had at least two prior felony convictions
of either a crime of violence or a controlled substance offense. As a career offender, Forbes’ guideline sentence was increased from 24 to 37 months of incarceration.

This case was investigated by the Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations and CBP. It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Delia Smith.

The case is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) investigation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs, and transnational criminal organizations that threaten the United States by using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies against criminal networks.

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Texas Man Wanted For Parole Violation Arrested At CEK Airport: VIPD

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — A Texas man wanted on a warrant for a parole violation was detained by federal agents at the St. Thomas airport on Saturday, authorities said.

Michael Morgan, 51, of Austin, was arrested about 4:25 p.m. Saturday and charged with being a fugitive from justice, the Virgin Islands Police Department said.

“Officers were contacted by Customs and Border Patrol agents who held Morgan after discovering the state of Texas had a warrant for his arrest,” VIPD spokesman Toby Derima said. “Morgan is wanted for parole violation.”

This case is currently under active investigation.

Any persons having information regarding this incident are asked to contact police by calling 911, the Criminal Investigation Bureau at (340) 774-2211, or Crime Stoppers USVI at (800) 222-TIPS, where your tip can earn you a reward.

All individuals listed as arrested or charged with a crime in this report are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

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Arizona Man Pleads Guilty To Smuggling 24 Pounds Of Marijuana Into St. Croix

CHRISTIANSTED — An Arizona man who tried to smuggle 24 pounds of marijuana into St. Croix has pleaded guilty in federal court to being a drug dealer, authorities said.

Armando Antonio Mena, 29, of Phoenix, pleaded guilty today to possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, U.S. Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert said.

According to court documents,Antonio Mena flew to St. Croix on May 27, 2020 on a flight that originated in San Francisco, California.

On that flight, he transported checked luggage containing 22 individually wrapped vacuum sealed bags that contained approximately ten kilograms of marijuana, the amount and packaging being consistent with drug distribution, court records indicate.

Mena faces up to five years’ incarceration and a fine of up to $250,000.00.

A sentencing date has been set for June 9, 2021.

The case was investigated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP).

It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa P. Ortiz.

https://www.justice.gov/usao-vi/pr/arizona-man-arrested-marijuana-luggage

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Coast Guard, U.S. Border Patrol Seize $1.9 Million In Cocaine, Detain 2 Smugglers In Isabela, Puerto Rico

AGUADILLA — A Coast Guard aircrew combined efforts with U.S. Border Patrol agents during a drug smuggling event Saturday that resulted in the seizure of 157 pounds (71 Kilos) of cocaine and the arrest of two suspected smugglers from the Dominican Republic near Villa Montana in Isabela, Puerto Rico.

The estimated wholesale value of the seized cocaine is $1.9 million.

The joint collaboration is the result of ongoing Caribbean Border Interagency Group CBIG multiagency efforts in their common goal of securing the borders of Puerto Rico against illegal threats.

“We continue to disrupt and apprehend smugglers that attempt to smuggle people and narcotics across our borders,” indicated Xavier Morales, Chief Patrol Agent for the Ramey Sector. ”

Coast Guard, U.S. Border Patrol Seize .9 Million In Cocaine, Detain 2 Smugglers In Isabela, Puerto Rico
LEAVE NO COCAINE BRICK UNTURNED: A U.S. Border Patrol K-9 rests after U.S. Ramey Sector Border Patrol agents, with the assistance of a U.S. Coast Guard HC-144 Ocean Sentry aircrew, apprehended two male Dominican Republic nationals and seized 157 pounds (71 Kilos) of cocaine with a wholesale value of $1.9 million, during a maritime drug smuggling attempt near Villa Montana in Isabela, Puerto Rico Jan. 23, 2021. The joint collaboration between the Coast Guard and Border Patrol is the result of ongoing Caribbean Border Interagency Group. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Border Patrol)

“Once our crew located the vessel, U.S. Border Patrol responded quickly to seize the suspects and narcotics. Our partnership is integral to protecting our shores and keeping our community safe,” said Lt. Karl Alejandre, Coast Guard Air Station Miami HC-144 Ocean Sentry aircraft commander.

While on a routine patrol Saturday night, the crew of a Coast Guard aircraft detected a suspect 21-foot go-fast vessel, approximately four nautical miles northwest of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico.  Coast Guard watchstanders in Sector San Juan alerted the U.S. Border Patrol from Ramey Sector and placed the Coast Guard aircrew in direct communication with responding Border Patrol units ashore.  While maintaining aerial surveillance of the vessel, the Coast Guard aircrew vectored-in the Border Patrol units to the location where the suspected smugglers made landfall.  Shortly thereafter, the Border Patrol agents, which included a K-9 unit, apprehended the two men and seized 58 packages of cocaine. 

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement – Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI) assumed custody the contraband and the suspected smugglers for investigation and prosecution.

The CBIG unifies efforts of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico and Puerto Rico Police Joint Forces of Rapid Action, in their common goal of securing the borders of Puerto Rico against illegal migrant and drug smuggling.

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Boat Passenger Pleads Guilty To Smuggling $287,660 On Yola Vessel Into St. Thomas

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — A Puerto Rican boat passenger admitted in federal court that participated in a marine mission to smuggle $287,660 into St. Thomas, authorities said.

Jose Carlos Diaz Melendez of San Juan appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ruth Miller in the U.S. District Court and pleaded guilty plea to a charge of concealing U.S. currency while aboard a smuggling vessel, U.S. Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert said.

According to court documents, on September 30, 2019, about 2:00 a.m., U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Marine Unit agents identified a boat traveling without navigational lights north of Savana Island.

CBP agents pulled their vessel alongside the 24-foot yola-type vessel that was operating without lights.

CBP agents activated their police blue lights and discharged a flare, in an effort to convince the other vessel to yield. When CBP agents attempted to initiate a stop, the other vessel did not yield but instead increased speed.

The CBP agents shot one round into one of the engines of the other vessel at which point the vessel decreased speed and stopped. The passenger threw a duffel bag overboard.

The bag was recovered by CBP agents and later found to contain $287,660.00 in U.S. currency and a Glock firearm.

After CBP agents disabled one of the boat’s motor, they boarded the vessel, and apprehended the captain, who was later identified as Arioc Diaz Melendez, and the passenger, later identified as Jose Carlos Diaz Melendez, of the vessel.

After pleading guilty, Jose Carlos Diaz Melendez was remanded to the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

He will be sentenced on a later date. The captain of the vessel, Arioc Diaz Melendez, pled guilty on November 30, 2020 and is awaiting sentencing.

This case was investigated by the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Juan Albino.

https://www.justice.gov/usao-vi/pr/two-arrested-smuggling-287000-st-thomas-following-high-speed-chase-and-apprehension-near

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3 Dominicans With 816 Pounds Of Cocaine Nabbed By U.S. Coast Guard, CBP Near Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN — The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Air and Marine Operations (AMO) was involved in a $10 million drug bust in Caribbean waters recently.

The U.S. Coast Guard and CBP-AMO interdicted a “yola” type wooden vessel transporting 816 pounds (370 kilos) of cocaine in the Caribbean Sea and apprehended three Dominican Republic nationals.

CBP said the suspected drug smugglers were attempting to enter near Arecibo, Puerto Rico.

The estimated value of the seized narcotics is $10 million.

“Transnational criminal organizations attempt to smuggle narcotics in different locations throughout our island testing our resolve,” Johnny Morales, director, Air and Marine Operations for the Caribbean Air and Marine Branch, said. “Our agents continue to use advanced aeronautical and maritime capabilities to detect and interdict them throughout our coastal borders,” he added.

CBP said that, on the evening of November 23, AMO launched from the Caribbean Air and Marine Branch (CAMB) in order to conduct a border security patrol.

The Marine Patrol Aircraft (MPA) crew detected the vessel that was without navigational lights.

It said MPA crew maintained surveillance, contacting U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Joseph Tezanos and a U.S. Coast Guard small vessel to intercept.

“This successful interdiction is the result of the hard work and dedication of the all the federal and state partners committed to eliminating illicit trafficking from the waters of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands,” Captain Jose Diaz, deputy commander, said. “Keeping dangerous drugs off the streets save lives.”

As the U.S. Coast Guard boats approached the vessel, two men jumped into the water in order to evade arrest.

The Coast Guard stopped the vessel with one-man onboard, and found 13 bales of narcotics and one firearm. The two individuals were retrieved from the water.

The U.S. Coast Guard later “transported the contraband and the arrested individuals to Arecibo, Puerto Rico, where Caribbean Corridor Strike Force (CCSF) agents took custody for prosecution and investigation.”

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Police Find A ‘Large’ Package Of Cocaine On Halfpenny Beach, 2 Suspects Nearby Get Away: VIPD

CHRISTIANSTED — Police, acting on a tip, found a “large” package of cocaine on a South Shore St. Croix beach and two men near the contraband escaped from the area, authorities said.

The 911 Emergency Call Center dispatched officers to Halfpenny Beach about 7:31 a.m. Monday regarding a suspicious package that was located by a concerned citizen, the Virgin Islands Police Department said.

When police arrived at the beach, officers observed a male individual with a package, the VIPD said. Officers approached the person with the package, at which time the individual dropped the package and ran from the area. Officers also observed a second man in the area, who ran away. Each man escaped from the scene and is at large.

The package, containing a large amount of cocaine, was turned over to U.S. Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and HIDTA Task Force agents for further investigation, VIPD spokesman Toby Derima said..

St. Croix District Chief of Police Sidney Elskoe thanked the citizens who contacted police.

“We need everyone to contact us at the first sign of suspicious activity or items, so we can be on top of the situation,” Chief Elskoe said.

He urges everyone who has information on crimes to call 911, the Crime TipLine at (340) 778-4950, or Crime Stoppers USVI at (800) 222-TIPS. Remember, if you see something, say something.

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Human Trafficker Gets 6 Months Home Detention For Bringing Dominican Illegal To St. Thomas By Dinghy

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — A St. Thomas man who was caught by federal authorities with an illegal alien in his dingy north of St. John has been sentenced to a half year of home confinement.

Ahmaud Rodriguez, 25, of Smith Bay, was given that sentence today for his June 3 conviction on transporting an illegal alien, U.S. Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert said.

According to court documents filed in the case, on December 7, 2019, Rodriguez agreed to transport an illegal alien from Tortola, British Virgin Islands to St. Thomas for a cash payment.

Around 4:30 a.m. on December 8th, Rodriguez arrived in a small dinghy vessel at a ferry dock in Tortola, BVI where he met his illegal passenger.

Rodriguez collected his fee and made his way with the passenger into U.S. waters.

Meanwhile, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents patrolling the
waters north of St. John observed a vessel on their radar at approximately 4:40 a.m.

The vessel was operating without navigation lights and accordingly, agents stopped and boarded the boat to conduct an inspection.

Upon boarding, agents observed Rodriguez and a female passenger.

The passenger acknowledged that she had flown from the Dominican Republic to Tortola, BVI where she met Rodriguez and boarded his boat for the trip to St. Thomas.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Molloy sentenced Rodriguez to six months of imprisonment, substituted by six months of home detention and four years of probation.

This case was investigated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

It was prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office of the Virgin Islands.

Meanwhile, this is not Rodriguez’s first brush with law enforcement or the local criminal court system.

A Superior Court judge made a court ruling concerning Ahmaud Rodriguez at the beginning of this year.

Superior Court Judge Denise Francois ruled this that the Virgin Islands Police Department acted within the law when officers approached Rodriguez rolling a joint outdoors on a boat trailer in the summer of 2019.

Judge Francois pointed out that while possession of small amounts of cannabis has been legalized in the territory, “possession of marijuana is still unlawful.”

On August 15, 2019, Rodriguez was on private property “sitting in a blue chair that was inside of a boat trailer in the yard of Smith Bay #97,” according to an opinion filed January 9, 2020 by Judge Francois.

Two VIPD police officers were conducting an inspection of the area around Louie’s Market, which one of the officers “described as a high crime and high drug trafficking area,” when they saw Rodriguez “rolling what appeared to be a marijuana cigarette in plain view.”

The officers “reversed the vehicle and approached Rodriguez and advised Rodriguez of the ‘Marijuana laws of the Virgin Islands.’ Rodriguez continued to roll his marijuana cigarette,” according to court documents.

The officers asked Rodriguez to stand, and noticed that he had been sitting on a large plastic bag with loose cannabis, which he told police “is my personal weed to smoke,” court documents indicate.

Officers also found a glass mason jar with 11 baggies of cannabis, “two packs of Apple brand zip lock baggies that are used to store narcotics for sales and a brown pack of wrapping paper,” according to court documents.

Police arrested Rodriguez and charged him with possession of narcotics with intent to distribute. According to the court opinion, police seized a total of 3.9 ounces of marijuana from Rodriguez.

Rodriguez had sought to suppress that evidence at trial, and argued that police had violated his Fourth Amendment constitutional right to be free of “unreasonable searches and seizures.”

Francois said in the opinion that “a search or seizure without a warrant is unreasonable absent the applicability of one of a few, well-delineated exceptions. One such exception is the investigatory stop and frisk.”

Francois also noted that officers’ entry onto the property “was a valid intrusion,” and “the police observed Rodriguez rolling a marijuana cigarette in plain sight. Therefore, they had reason to approach Rodriguez and question him.”

Rodriguez argued that police came into his yard without a warrant, but Francois said he did not submit any evidence showing “that the yard in question belonged to Rodriguez or that he was a tenant.”

In addition, Francois wrote, “Rodriguez claims that the yard surrounding ‘his house, was fenced, was private,’” and relied on case law to argue that the Fourth Amendment “protection of the curtilage of a home extended to where he was sitting in his boat trailer.”

Francois, however, was not convinced by this argument, and denied his motion to suppress the evidence seized by police.

“There is nothing in the record to support Rodriguez’s statement that the search and seizure took place within the curtilage of his home. There is nothing in the record upon which the Court can make a finding that the boat trailer was part of the curtilage of Rodriguez’s home,” Francois wrote. “To the contrary, the Probable Cause Fact Sheet indicates that the police observed Rodriguez’s activity from their police vehicle.”

Francois found that Rodriguez “had no reasonable expectation of privacy sitting in his alleged yard in such a manner that the police could observe what he was doing as they drove by,” and noted that “the existence of the marijuana in plain sight provided justification for a search and seizure.”

While possession of an ounce or less of marijuana has been decriminalized under territorial law, “marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance” under the Virgin Islands Code, and “possession of marijuana is still unlawful,” Francois ruled.

The Virgin Islands Medicinal Cannabis Patient Care Act, which will allow medicinal use and regulation of cannabis and the regulation of medicinal cannabis provisioning centers throughout the territory, was signed in January 2019, though the islands have seen little movement forward creating the Cannabis Advisory Board, the nine-member group tasked with developing the rules and regulations governing marijuana use.

In December of 2019, Governor Albert Bryan, Jr. proposed an amendment to the law that would legalize recreational cannabis, but Senators have yet to endorse the chief executive’s legislation.

http://visuperiorcourt.hosted.civiclive.com/cms/One.aspx?portalId=12810831&pageId=16355877

https://www.justice.gov/usao-vi/pr/man-pleads-guilty-transporting-illegal-alien-tortola