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FEMA Has $578,970 For USVI Organizations That Provided Food, Shelter During COVID

CHRISTIANSTED — Reimbursements of up to $578,970 are available for USVI organizations that have provided emergency food and/or shelter programs in the territory during the period of January 1, 2020, through October 31, 2021.

The reimbursements are funded through the Department of Homeland Security/Federal Emergency Management Agency under the federally-funded Emergency Food and Shelter National Board Program based on the following phases/funding cycles:

• Phase 37: January 1, 2020, to October 31

• CARES: January 27, 2020, to October 31

• Phase 38: January 1, 2020, to October 31

Applicants must be nonprofit organizations, churches or units of government that have demonstrated the ability to deliver emergency food and/or shelter programs. In addition, they must be eligible to receive federal funding, practice nondiscrimination and have an accounting system.

A local board composed of 12 members will be charged with distributing funds appropriated by Congress to help expand the capacity of food and shelter programs in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Those interested in applying should contact Beth Nuttall at bethn@cfvi.net with the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands for an application. The application can also be downloaded at https://cfvi.co/EFSP_APP. For more information, visit https://cfvi.co/EFSP_FAQ.

The application deadline is Friday, October 8.

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Puerto Rico Sees More Refugees Arrive By Boat Due To Haitian Political Crisis

SAN JUAN — The political turmoil and growing violence in Haiti is pushing more Haitians to take to the sea in an effort to reach Puerto Rico, where more refugees were intercepted at sea so far this year than the total over the previous two years, according to federal data.

The 49 Haitians apprehended by both federal agencies so far this year surpass the 25 reported in Puerto Rico in 2020 and the seven in 2019.

Hatians intercepted at sea are taken back to where their boat departed, and those who make it Puerto Rico are turned over to the U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service (ICE) to be deported.

Haiti’s political unrest, constitutional crisis and spike in kidnappings have spurred the migration, experts, priests and human rights advocates told the Miami Herald.

Haitian Catholic priest Olin Pierre, who gives food and shelter to his fellow citizens in Puerto Rico, said he has noted an increase in Haitians arriving this year.

Haitians have settled in Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan, the priest said. Dominicans, an immigrant community that is well-established on the island, often assist Haitians as they arrive.

But because of language barriers, it is unusual to see Haitians making their homes on the island, noted Pierre. Most of them continue their trips to the United States or Canada, where there’s a bigger Haitian population. As of 2019, 256 Haiti-born people were living in Puerto Rico, based on the most recent Puerto Rico Community Survey Census.

“Haiti’s misery is not misery, it’s something worse,” Pierre said.Protesters have called for the resignation of Haitian President Jovenel Mossé multiple times in recent years. Dieu Nalio Chery AP

During the current political unrest in Haiti, gangs and armed groups have outgunned security forces and are fighting for territory, said Colette Lespinasse, a refugee and human-rights advocate based in Haiti. Hunger and malnutrition have increased in Haiti as President Jovenel Moïse has been accused of embezzling funds, dismantling the parliament, and exceeding his term limit.

In reaction to Moïse’s refusal to step down despite the mandate of Haiti’s constitution, Lespinasse said, protests paralyzed the country as protesters have demanded a new election. In the past two months, Haitian migration has picked up. On June 6th, 31 Haitians were intercepted by Puerto Rico’s Police and U.S. Border Protection in Rincón, a town where immigrants frequently arrive.

“We have a perpetual crisis that has not been solved,” Lespinasse said. “It is still very hard today.”

Haitians from the capital, Port-au-Prince, as well as from other areas are fleeing, said Haitian economist Camille Chalmers.

“The people that are going to Puerto Rico are new migrants,” Chalmers said. “Professionals and young people are fleeing harsh living conditions in upper-and middle-class slums.”

Haitians who migrate to Puerto Rico often use it as a transit point to the United States, Chalmers said.

For migrants, fleeing Haiti by boat through the Mona Passage, a 60-mile stretch between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, is dangerous, Jeffrey Quiñones, Puerto Rico’s Border Protection public affairs officer, said. “Statistically, transporting people on the water is more dangerous,” Quiñones said. “The chances of dying on the trip are much higher.”

Though the Center for American Progress, an independent and nonpartisan policy institute, did not find that Temporary Protected Status designations encouraged migration to the mainland United States, Quiñones stated that it could increase Haitian migration to the island.

Immigrants think they can be covered by TPS after reaching the United States, but that is not possible, the public offer said.

The U.S. grants TPS to citizens from countries in extraordinary circumstances that can’t handle the return of their nationals from abroad. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, grantees can’t be deported and can work temporarily in the country.

Alejandro Mayorkas, U.S. secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, designated an 18-month extension of TPS for Haitian nationals on May 22nd.

As of 2018, 41 Haitians living in Puerto Rico were protected by TPS, the largest population of TPS holders in the island, according to data released by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

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Puerto Rican Man Who Tried To Smuggle $1.1 Million Cash By Boat To The USVI Gets 3 Years In Prison

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — Two Puerto Rican men who tried to smuggle at least $1 million cash into the territory by boat have been given sentences of three years and 2.5 years respectively by a federal judge.

Abnel Belordo Colón, 29, and Jose Ernesto Vazquez Colón, 25, were sentenced last Thursday for possession of more than $1 million in cash onboard a vessel outfitted for smuggling, U.S. Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert said.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Molloy, sentenced Abnel Colon to 37 months of incarceration, a term of supervised release and ordered him to pay a $100 special assessment. Jose Ernesto Vazquez Colon was sentenced to 30 months of incarceration, a term of supervised release and ordered
to pay a $100 special assessment.

According to court documents, on or about September 20, 2019, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Marine Unit agents were conducting border security patrols near the west side of St. Thomas.

At 10:50 p.m., the agents made radar contact with a vessel traveling eastward toward St. Thomas roughly three miles north of Savana Island, within the territorial waters of the United States.

When agents intercepted the vessel, it was traveling without lights and failed to stop after agents activated their blue lights.

Agents observed two men throwing large bags overboard into the
water. Agents fired flares in an attempt to have the vessel stop, but the vessel did not stop, and so agents disabled the vessel’s motor.

CBP agents then boarded the boat and found two men on
board, Abnel Belordo Colón and Jose Ernesto Vazquez Colón. Each man was identified as the men who were throwing the black bags overboard, and Jose Ernesto Vazquez Colón was identified as the pilot.

CBP agents later recovered the bags that had been thrown overboard, one of which had been weighted with a dumbbell, and the bags were found to contain over $1,100,000 in United States currency.

On board the vessel, which had been rented from a business in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, agents found 3-4 dumbbells with ropes attached, as well as a GPS device, which is generally used to pinpoint the location of jettisoned contraband so that it can be retrieved later.

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

It was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Adam Sleeper and Nathan Brooks.

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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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3 St. Thomas Men Charged With Drug Trafficking After 15 Pounds Of Marijuana Found In Carry-On Bags

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — Three St. Thomas men appeared at a preliminary hearing in federal court today to hear charges that they tried to bring 15 pounds of marijuana to the territory in three separate bags on a commercial airplane.

Two criminal complaints have been filed in U.S. District Court against Kharim Moore, Trevon Richards and Dennis Weekes for marijuana trafficking, U.S. Atttorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert said.

Moore, Richards and Weekes made their initial appearances in a St. Thomas federal courtroom on possession with intent to distribute marijuana charges, Shappert said.

According to the two affidavits filed in the cases, Moore was stopped at the Cyril E. King airport after arriving in St. Thomas from Atlanta. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers then searched his carry-on bag and found about three kilograms (6.61 pounds) of marijuana.

Richards and Weekes arrived at the Cyril E. King airport after arriving in St. Thomas from Atlanta, GA on a separate flight. CBP officers searched each of their carry-on bags and found marijuana.

Richards’ bag contained approximately three kilograms of marijuana. Weekes’ bag contained approximately 1.5 kilograms (3.31 pounds) of marijuana.

These cases are being investigated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

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Man Who Fled Customs Facility After Seeing His Backpack Go Through X-Ray Machine Gets 2.5 Years

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — A young St. Thomas man who fled the Red Hook U.S. Customs facility when he realized that his backpack with a gun in it was about to be put through an x-ray machine got 2.5 years in prison.

Javier Enrique Lima of St. Thomas was sentenced Wednesday to 30 months in prison after pleading guilty to possessing and transporting a firearm with an obliterated serial number and fleeing a designated customs facility without authorization, U.S. Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert said.

According to the documents filed in this case, on February 3, Lima presented himself to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in the Red Hook ferry terminal after returning from Tortola, British Virgin Islands. A CBP Officer working the x-ray machine noticed a firearm in the backpack Lima brought with him, and called for another officer.

Lima immediately fled the facility on foot, leaving his backpack. The backpack contained a firearm with an obliterated serial number in the x-ray machine.

Law enforcement agents made multiple efforts to find Lima, but were unsuccessful. He would later turn himself in to authorities and plead guilty.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Molloy sentenced Lima to 30 months imprisonment followed by two years of supervised release on one count and 12 months imprisonment followed by one year of supervised release on one count; to be run concurrently.

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

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St. Thomas Man Who Mailed Cocaine Disguised As Candy Bars Gets 1.3 Years In Prison

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — A St. Thomas man who tried to mail a pound of cocaine disguised as candy bars to the U.S. mainland last year got just over a year in prison from a federal judge, authorities said.

Kemo Riley, 43, of St. Thomas was sentenced for mailing a package containing cocaine, U.S. Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert said today.

According to court documents filed in this case, Riley mailed a package to a person in New York containing more than 250 grams of cocaine concealed in candy bar wrappers.

The package was mailed from the Ottley post office in St. Thomas. It was seized on May 28, 2019 by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers in San Juan. The officers in Puerto Rico discovered there was cocaine inside the candy wrappers.

Surveillance video from the Ottley post office showed Riley mailing the package. Riley had been previously convicted for unauthorized possession of a firearm in the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Molloy sentenced Riley to 15
months imprisonment followed by three years of supervised release.

The case was investigated by the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

It was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Juan Albino and Nathan Brooks.

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CPB-AMO Agents Capture 3 Puerto Rican Men With $1.1 Million In Cash On Boat

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.

CPB-AMO Agents Capture 3 Puerto Rican Men With .1 Million In Cash On Boat
CHARGED: Jerry Amill Kirkland-Marrero, 29, of Naguabo, Puerto Rico

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? CPB-AMO Agents Capture 3 Puerto Rican Men With .1 Million In Cash On BoatTetyana 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? CPB-AMO Agents Capture 3 Puerto Rican Men With .1 Million In Cash On Boat” 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.

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Two Men Nabbed By Border Patrol After $800,000 Thrown Off Boat Near Savana Island

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — Federal money-laundering complaints have been filed against two men for attempting to smuggle approximately $800,000 into St. Thomas by boat, authorities said.

Jose Ernesto Vazquez Colon and Abnel Belordo Colon were arrested Friday evening and made their initial appearances in federal court on Saturday in St. Thomas, U.S. Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert said.

According to court documents, late Friday evening CBP Marine Unit agents noticed a boat traveling without navigational lights about three miles north of Savana Island.

When CBP agents attempted to initiate a stop, the two men on the boat began throwing bags overboard. The bags were later found to contain roughly $800,000 in U.S. currency.

After CBP agents disabled the boat’s motor, they boarded the vessel, apprehended the two men, and recovered multiple dumbbells with ropes attached.

According to court documents, dumbbells tied to ropes are often used to ensure that contraband materials thrown overboard will sink to the bottom, enabling the contraband to be recovered later, using GPS.

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

It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Nathan Brooks.

Shappert said that a criminal complaint is merely a formal charging document and it is not in and of itself evidence of guilt.

“Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law,” she said.

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Former FEMA Employee Charged with Stealing Government Property

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — U.S. Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert for the District of the Virgin Islands said today that Duane Woods, Jr. has been indicted for receiving stolen government property and grand larceny.

According to the indictment, Woods, who worked for FEMA at the time, converted FEMA property to his own use, including a generator, phones, monitors, and iPads.

This case is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security-OIG and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Nathan Brooks.

Shappert said that an indictment is merely a formal charging document and it is not in and of itself evidence of guilt.

“Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law,” she said.