Last Jesus La human smuggler sentenced to almost 6 yearsPOSTED: 12/1/11 8:24 AM
St. Maarten – Jean Journel Cobite got some relief yesterday when the Court in First Instance sent him to prison for human smuggling and membership of a criminal organization for 5 years and 10 months. The verdict included a 14-month sentence reduction for the eleven weeks he spent too long in a police cell.
The 51-year old Haitian belongs to a gang that sent thirty fugitives from Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Dominica and Zimbabwe on a tricky trip towards the US Virgin Islands with the Jesus La on December 5, 2010. The vessel, which was only fit to carry ten passengers, capsized in the British Virgin Islands, and eight people drowned. During the trial on November 9, prosecutor mr. M.L.P. Ridderbeks demanded 9 years against Cobite.
Judge mr. M. Keppels considered proven that Cobite had been involved in the fatal Jesus La-transport and an earlier transport on August 14 of last year. The Judge acquitted Cobite of several other attempts at human smuggling between July 1 and December 5.
Cobite was also found guilty of membership of a criminal organization. The other members of the gang are captain Joseph Neus, cab driver Erold Montgomery Bolan, fisherman Louis Bernard, Louis Saint-Marc and A. Hodge. Hodge is the only gang member that was not sentenced this year.
Cobite has always denied his involvement in the human smuggling ring. However, the court believes there is plenty of proof in the many tapped phone conversations.
“On essential points, these taps are supported by observations and statements by witnesses and co-suspects. The organizing takes place in such a structured way that participation in a criminal organization is also legally and convincingly proven,” mr. Keppels wrote in her verdict.
Upon his arrest on December 6, 2010, officers found a large amount of cash on Cobite. The court ruling does not disclose how much money he was carrying. mr. Keppels ruled that Cobite obtained this money though the criminal act of human smuggling. The money has been confiscated and will not be returned to the defendant.
After the verdict was pronounced, Cobite seemed confused about the absence of his attorney, mr. Jairo Bloem.
“He is not here?” he wondered aloud.
In September, prosecutor mr. M.L.P. Ridderbeks criticized mr. Bloem’s “sloppy way of handling” Cobite’s case, because he was not present for a court hearing. mr. Bloem dismissed that criticism in September as “pure nonsense,” saying that the trial was postponed the first time because he had two court hearings scheduled at the same time.
“The second postponement was at the request of the public prosecutor, because we had brought in a witness she wanted to prosecute for perjury. Then the case was put on the agenda for the beginning of September, but it was then moved to August 24, because the prosecutor wanted to attend the Curacao Jazz Festival. On August 24 I was not on the island and I have reported this a week before the trial date.”
According to this newspaper’s records, the trial was postponed for the first time on March 31 because mr. Bloem was out with an attack of bronchitis. In June the prosecution asked for a postponement to enable it to prosecute another gang member, Louis Saint-Marc for perjury. In August, mr. Bloem was off island and he did report this to the court on August 18. But his client was caught off guard when he appeared in court on August 24, saying that his attorney had not informed him about his absence. Yesterday history repeated itself, when Cobite, now with a 5 year and 10 month prison sentence to his name, again stood without his attorney in court.