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Feds Take Syrian Teenager To Miami To Pursue Asylum Claim … Against Judge’s Order

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — A Syrian teenager may be allowed to pursue an asylum claim in a Florida immigration court while facing a federal criminal charge in the territory.

George Soufan, 18, appeared in U.S. District Court on St. Thomas on Thursday, shackled and dressed in a red Bureau of Corrections jumpsuit, and addressed the court with the assistance of an Arabic interpreter speaking by phone from Miami.

According to court documents, he turned himself over to police March 16, and the matter was quickly referred to local U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), along with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Federal agents took Soufan into custody in Red Hook and moved him to Cyril E. King Airport for processing, where they found that Soufan had no documents in his possession that would allow him to legally enter the country, and charged him with “unlawful entry by an alien,” a federal crime.

At last month’s hearing, Soufan’s attorney, Gabriel Villegas, along with Homeland Security Investigation Task Force agents, related a detailed story of his travel to and arrival on St. Thomas, which spanned more than two years.

Soufan left Syria in order to avoid being enlisted by the army and militias charged with protecting his small Christian village Ina Anaz Homs, located near the Lebanon border, according to court documents. From Syria, Soufan traveled with an uncle to Brazil – he has provided investigators with a three month visa obtained by the uncle – then onto St. Martin, where Soufan lived for two years, saving up money to travel to St. Thomas.

Soufan traveled to St. John, then took the ferry to St. Thomas, where he immediately turned himself over. During last month’s hearing, both the prosecution and defense said the criminal charge pending against Soufan could have been avoided had he turned himself into the Customs and Border Protection Office on St. John instead of traveling to St. Thomas.

Villegas agreed to waive any preliminary testimony, with the understanding that in doing so, he did not want to hurt his client’s chance at seeking asylum, which both sides eventually agreed to. Soufan had a brother in California with legal status – and an uncle with a status hearing in two months – that could take charge of Soufan pending the resolution of his case.

While Villegas proposed staying the unlawful entry charge so that it would not affect Soufan’s claim, the prosecution said they would have to do their due diligence – including background checks on Soufan’s uncle and brother, along with a visit to their house to confirm its location – before they could send him to California and release him into their third party custody with electronic monitoring.

Hoping to expedite the process, the court recessed and reconvened late in the afternoon, where U.S. District Court Judge Ruth Miller granted Soufan’s release into the custody of his brother, and under the supervision of the U.S. Probation Office.

Documents filed by Villegas a few days ago, however, indicate that instead of heading to California, Customs and Immigration agents allegedly ignored Miller’s orders.

“The facts are not in dispute,” Villegas wrote in a court motion last Wednesday. “The government stipulated to release conditions, the court entered an order releasing the defendant, the ICE respondents knew of the release order and deliberately kept a detainer in place after the release order was entered to prevent release of the defendant. The ICE respondents then kept the defendant detained and transported him to Miami, Florida, in direct violation of the court’s order.”

Villegas argued that ICE had violated the separation of powers doctrine by moving on its own.

“By seizing and transporting Mr. Soufan out of the District of the Virgin Islands, the ICE respondents appear to be attempting to intimidate the court into refusing to comply with the dictates of the Bail Reform Act to the extent said act requires that individual consideration be given to defendants, irrespective of alienage, who appear before the court charged with a violation of the immigration laws but who do not present a flight risk or danger to the community that cannot be adequately addressed by pretrial supervision conditions,” Villegas wrote. “This gambit should be seen for exactly what it is – a contemptuous affront to the dignity and authority of the District Court and its personnel.”

Villegas moved that the court direct ICE agents to immediately release Soufan and provide him with transportation to his family in California and that the ICE agents be found in contempt of court “in light of the seizure and removal” of Soufan from the territory.

“This court must act to protect its constitutionally based independence and authority. Failure to act will only embolden renegade Executive Branch agencies to conduct further inroads on,” Villegas wrote.

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Mexican Deported From Texas In 2017 Admits To Coming To St. Croix in 2018

CHRISTIANSTED – A Mexican national who was deported from the United States about a year ago admitted in federal court that he returned here illegally again in 2018.

Manuel Alberto Fuentes-Acosta of Mexico City pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to re-entry of removed alien, U.S. Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert said today.

Fuentes-Acosta made the guilty plea before U.S. Magistrate Judge George Cannon, Jr. on February 4, according to Shappert.

According to court documents, Fuentes-Acosta presented himself to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) primary inspection at the St. Croix Rohlsen Airport on November 9, 2018, while attempting to board an American Airlines flight.

Fuentes-Acosta told the CBP officer that he was illegally in the United States, and he was referred to secondary inspection where he repeated that he was in the United States illegally and did not have the requisite visa.

The Mexican national was arrested. He informed Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents that he entered the United States in 1996 illegally and was deported in 2017 from Laredo, Texas.

Fuentes-Acosta also stated that he had remained in Mexico and later returned to the United States without inspection. He also told HSI agents that he paid a smuggler $2,000 to $3,000 to return to the United States by crossing the river from Mexico to Del Rio, TX in April 2018.

The investigation revealed that Fuentes-Acosta was deported on June 1, 2017 from Laredo, Texas to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico via foot and the defendant did not obtain consent from the Attorney General to re-enter the United States.

Fuentes-Acosta faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

A sentencing date has been set for June 5.

The case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Rhonda Williams-Henry.

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ICE Agents Seize $25M Worth of Cocaine Near Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN — Federal authorities in Puerto Rico have seized $25 million worth of cocaine in waters off an outer island.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement ICE) said Friday that nearly 2,400 pounds (1,100 kilograms) were found aboard a boat near the island of Vieques.

Officials said they pursued the boat on Thursday but that its occupants fled once they reached Vieques, a popular tourist destination. No one has been arrested.

It is the largest reported seizure so far this year. Last month, federal authorities said they seized $10 million worth of cocaine off Puerto Rico’s north coast.

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ICE: Five-Day Sweep of New York Yields 118 Illegal Caribbean Migrants

NEW YORK — The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency says it has detained a number of Caribbean nationals among 118 immigrants during a five-day exercise in several areas of New York.

It said during the January 14-18 exercise, law enforcement officials apprehended the immigrants for violating U.S. immigration laws, as well as being convicted criminals or had criminal charges pending.

ICE said several had prior felony convictions for serious or violent offenses, such as child sex crimes, weapons charges, and assault, or had past convictions for significant or multiple misdemeanors.

Those arrested included nationals from the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, ICE said.

ICE said a 33-year-old Jamaican, who was previously deported from the United States, was arrested. He has convictions of possession with intent to distribute marijuana and harassment.

Another Jamaican, a 49-year-old, who was previously removed from the U.S., was also arrested during the sweep. He has convictions of burglary, robbery, and six separate larcenies.

In addition, ICE said a 57-year-old Jamaican, who was released from New York Police Department (NYPD) custody, was also detained.

“The success of this operation is a direct result of the full commitment of the dedicated men and women of ICE,” said Thomas Decker, a senior ICE official.

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U.S. Attorney’s Office Sponsors Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force Training for VI and PR

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — U.S. Attorney Gretchen C.F Shappert said today that the Virgin Islands U.S.Attorney’s Office is sponsoring training this week for prosecutors from the USVI and Puerto Rico and federal agents here in the territory who are dedicated to the investigation and prosecution of large-scale narcotics and organized crime targets.

“The Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) Program was established by the Department of Justice in 1982 to mount a comprehensive attack against organized drug traffickers,” Shappert said. “Today, the OCDETF Program is the centerpiece of the Department’s drug strategy to reduce the availability of drugs by disrupting and dismantling major drug trafficking organizations and money laundering organizations and related criminal enterprises.”

The OCDETF Program operates nationwide and combines the resources of federal agencies andlocal law enforcement in a coordinated attack against major drug trafficking and money laundering organizations. OCDETF participants include the 94 U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the U.S. Marshals Service, the Criminal and Tax Divisions of the U.S. Department of Justice and numerous State and local agencies.

The OCDETF strategy focuses federal law enforcement resources on reducing the flow of illicit drugs and drug proceeds by identifying and targeting the major trafficking organizations, eliminating the financial infrastructure of drug organizations by emphasizing financial investigations and asset forfeiture,redirecting federal drug enforcement resources to align them with existing and emerging drug threats, and conducting expanded, nationwide investigations against all the related parts of the targeted organizations.

“Prosecutors and agents in the Caribbean region represent the tip of the spear in America’s efforts to combat transnational drug trafficking organizations,” Shappert said. “For that reason, we must continuously train and educate our OCDETF partners to address the emerging threats associated with drug cartels and organized crime. We are proud to support our OCDETF partners and to host this important training.”

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St. Croix’s Carlyle Ham Fooled Into Thinking Federal Agents Were 14-Year-Old Boy

CHRISTIANSTED – Federal agents posing as a fictional 14-year-old boy stung a 63-year-old St. Croix man as a would-be pedophile.

United States Attorney Gretchen C. F. Shappert said today that Carlyle Ham pleaded guilty this morning before U.S. Magistrate Judge George Cannon, Jr. to attempted coercion and enticement for illegal sexual activity involving a minor.

According to the plea agreement filed with the court, in June of 2017, law enforcement officers, posing as a 14-year-old male named “Joey,” posted ads online captioned as “Hmu in stx.”

Following the posting of the ad, the defendant and law enforcement officers posing as “Joey” began exchanging text messages.

Ham proceeded to send a photo of himself to “Joey,” followed by an invitation to meet. The defendant texted suggestions for illicit sexual activity to “Joey”, who he believed was a 14-year-old male.

Ham arranged to meet “Joey” at the movie theater in St. Croix and provided a description of his vehicle.

The defendant was subsequently taken into custody by law enforcement officers.

Ham faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

A sentencing date has been set for March 20, 2019.

According to social media, Ham’s favorite online newspaper is the V.I. Consortium.

The case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

It was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Rhonda Williams-Henry.

St. Croix's Carlyle Ham Fooled Into Thinking Federal Agents Were 14-Year-Old Boy
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Police Arrest 3 St. Croix Men With Assault Rifle, Ammunition in Early Morning Raid: VIPD

FREDERIKSTED — Three St. Croix men were arrested early Tuesday morning and charged with illegal gun possession, authorities said.

Detectives from the Criminal Investigations Bureau, Special Operations Unit and Federal Law Enforcement officers executed a federal warrant at about 3 a.m. on Tuesday at the home of Amead Williams and Akeem Stanley in the Frederiksted area, the Virgin Islands Police Department said.

Once inside the home, police discovered an assault rifle with fully loaded 223 round found in the living room as well as multiple loaded magazines, according to the VIPD.

All three men in the home were arrested and charged with crimes, including Scotty Ricardo Stapleton an undocumented individual who was also living in the home.

Amead Williams 23-years-old was arrested and charged with an indicted person in possession of a firearms he was already on house arrest for a previous gun charge at the time of his arrest. No bail was set.

Akeem Stanley 25-years-old arrested and charged with aiding and abetting an indicted person and unauthorized possession of a firearm bail was set at $50,000.00.

Police Arrest 3 St. Croix Men With Assault Rifle, Ammunition in Early Morning Raid: VIPD
CHARGED: Scotty Ricardo-Stapleton

Scotty Ricardo Stapleton 32-years-old arrested and charged with being an illegal alien in possession of a firearm. Stapleton was detained due to his immigration status and is considered a flight risk because he has no ties to the community.

The VIPD thank the Community for their assistance in the fight against crime.

This collaboration between local and Federal  Law Enforcement Agencies has been an effective ongoing initiative.

Police put out a wanted poster for robbery and illegal weapons charges on Amead Williams on October 22, 2016.

If you have information on this case or by other in the territory please call 340 778 2211 STX , 340 774 2211 STT , Crime Stoppers VI 1800 222-8477 or 911.

Police Arrest 3 St. Croix Men With Assault Rifle, Ammunition in Early Morning Raid: VIPD
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St. Croix’s Josue Navarro Faces 20 Years In Prison After Pleading Guilty To Cyber Crime

CHRISTIANSTED – A federal sting operation on St. Croix has netted two sexual predators on the Big Island.

Josue Navarro, 36, of St. Croix, Virgin Islands, pleaded guilty on Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge George Cannon, Jr., to attempted coercion and enticement for illegal sexual activity, U.S. Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert said.

According to the plea agreement filed with the court, on or about June 23, 2017 to June 25, 2017, law enforcement officers operating in an undercover capacity created and posted ads online.

The post was captioned “home 4 the summer, looking fun in the sun NSA.” The ad was posted by a law enforcement officer posing as a 14-year-old female named “Niema.”

On June 24, 2017 at 8:43 p.m., “Niema” asked the defendant if he brought something “cause I don’t wanna get pregnant, my mother will kill me,” to which the defendant responded “yes.” At 9:03 “Niema” told the defendant she was 14. At 9:18 p.m., the defendant said “[L]emme come get you n we go get whatever it is u want.”

At 11:02 the defendant texted the following to “Niema” and in highly graphic language offered suggestions as to methods and means for sexual penetration which he offered to provide to “Niema.”

On June 25, 2017, at 1:19 p.m., the defendant texted “Niema,” asking to engage in other sex acts involving carnal knowledge. At 4:35 p.m., the defendant told “Niema” “[L]et me come pick you up.” The defendant was to meet with “Niema” at an arranged location in St. Croix and was taken into custody by law enforcement.

Navarro faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

A sentencing date has been set for January 2, 2019.

The case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

It was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Rhonda Williams-Henry.

St. Croix's Josue Navarro Faces 20 Years In Prison After Pleading Guilty To Cyber Crime

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U.S. Immigration Rounds Up 30 Caribbean Illegals In Sweep of New Jersey Suburbs

U.S. Immigration Rounds Up 30 Caribbean Illegals In Sweep of New Jersey Suburbs

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NEWARK — The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency says a number of Caribbean nationals have been arrested among 91 immigrants during a five-day immigration sweep in New Jersey.

ICE said the operation targeted “at-large criminal aliens, illegal re-entrants and other immigration violators.”

It said the operation was supported by ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) New Jersey Field Office.

The Caribbean nationals arrested were from Anguilla (1), Cuba (3), Dominican Republic (14), Guyana (2), Haiti (3), Jamaica (3), St. Lucia (1), and Trinidad and Tobago (3).

Others were nationals of: Bangladesh (1), Cameroon (1), Colombia (4), Ecuador (4), Egypt (1), El Salvador (10), Ghana (1), Guatemala (3), Guinea (1), Honduras (4), Korea (2), Macedonia (2), Mexico (12), Nicaragua (1), Pakistan (2), Philippines (4), Peru (4), Poland (1), Spain (1) and Venezuela (2).

ICE said among those arrested included a 24-year-old Jamaican national, who has been convicted of endangering the welfare of a child, and lewdness.

A 23-year-old Anguillan national, who is a member of the Bloods gang, was also arrested, ICE said.

The agency said of those arrested during the operation, which was spearheaded by ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), 77 percent were convicted criminals, and 70 percent had prior felony convictions.

“The remarkable results of our officers and law enforcement partners highlight ICE’s ongoing commitment to public safety,” said John Tsoukaris, Field Office Director of ERO, Newark.

“This operation focuses on the arrest of individuals convicted of serious crimes and are a threat to public safety,” he added. “Because of the targeted efforts of these professional officers, there are 91 fewer criminals in our communities.”

ICE said the immigrants “will go through removal proceedings before an immigration judge; or, for those under a final order of removal, arrangements will be made to remove them from the U.S.”

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection is extremely proud to have assisted in this operation,” said Frank Russo, acting director of the agency’s New York field office. “It is through collaborative efforts that law enforcement agencies can combat illegal acts and apprehend criminals who pose a threat to the Homeland.”

ICE said the individuals were arrested in the following counties in New Jersey: Atlantic (3), Bergen (5), Burlington (3), Camden (3), Cumberland (6), Essex (19), Hudson (15), Mercer (7), Middlesex (7), Monmouth (1), Passaic (10), Union (8), and Warren (2).

Also, ICE said one individual was arrested in New Castle County in Delaware, and one individual was arrested in Bronx County in New York.

They range from age 19 to 78 years old, and all were previously convicted of a variety of offenses, ICE said.

Agency officials said some of those convictions included sexual assault on a minor, child abuse, possession of narcotics, distribution of narcotics, money laundering, driving under the influence (DUI), fraud, domestic violence, theft, possession of a weapon, burglary, larceny, aggravated assault, aggravated assault on law enforcement, resisting arrest, endangering the welfare of a child, kidnapping and illegal re-entry.

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Today Is May 25 National Missing Children’s Day After First Being Declared in 1983

Today Is May 25 National Missing Children's Day After First Being Declared in 1983

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CHARLOTTE AMALIE – In 1983, President Ronald Regan proclaimed May 25th National Missing Children’s Day. The day was observed after a string of child abductions gained national attention.

Each year, the U.S. Department of Justice through the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, commemorates Missing Children’s Day with a ceremony honoring the heroic and exemplary efforts of agencies, organizations, and individuals to protect children.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, roughly 800,000 children are reported missing each year in the United States. They estimate that approximately 90 percent of missing children are runaways, six percent are family abductions, one percent are lost or injured, one percent are non-family abductions and two percent are critically missing young adults between the ages of 18 to 20.

Since 2010, Virgin Islands Police Department statistics have recorded four missing children under the age of 18 and an additional four missing young adults between the ages 18-20.

“Protecting our children from exploitation and locating missing children is a key priority of the Department of Justice,” said U.S. Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert. “We will continue to work tirelessly with our federal and territorial partners to ensure the safety of our children and to prosecute those who seek to do them harm.”

If you have any information or know the identities or whereabouts of any missing or exploited child please contact the Virgin Islands Police Department (VIPD) at (340) 774-2211, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) at (340) 693-2250, or contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children via toll-free 24-hour hotline at (202) 514-5678.

“All children deserve our love, support, and protection,” Shappert said.

Today Is May 25 National Missing Children's Day After First Being Declared in 1983