Customs officer jailed 7 years for mega cocaine shipment

POSTED: 09/11/14 7:14 AM

Court describes defendant as “rotten apple in the basket”

St. Maarten – “There is no doubt that several employees of the company Swissport Cargo Services in Curacao, the airport police in Curacao and / or the customs in Curacao and St. Maarten must have been actively involved in the transport.” Thus reads a blistering conclusion in Judge Koos van de Ven’s court ruling that sent 47-year-old customs officer Nestor Gregorio Sanchez for 7 years to Pointe Blanche prison.

The court found Sanchez – a 23-year veteran of the customs department in Curacao and St. Maarten –guilty of shipping 268 kilos of cocaine from Curacao to St. Maarten in January of this year. The drugs arrived at Princess Juliana International Airport on January 30 on an Insel Air flight; Sanchez was on the same flight. According to the prosecution, the drugs have a value of $3 million in St. Maarten; their street value in the Dominican Republic or the United States – the possible destinations for the drugs – would be between $15 and $20 million.

The organizers of the transport hid the drugs in a shipment of clothing. The original shipping papers listed 18 boxes of clothing, but the gang somehow managed to add ten boxes filled with cocaine to it.

The court ruled that the lead letter from the American Drug Enforcement Agency contained enough information to justify a reasonable suspicion against Sanchez. Before he was arrested, customs officers found the drugs at the airport and they had tapped the phone of the defendant. Officers noted that the conversation were held in a (rather clumsy – ed.) coded language. The men involved in the transport spoke about washing cars, whereby a clean car meant that everything was okay, and a dirty car was reason for alarm.

The court acquitted Sanchez however of membership of a criminal organization, because the prosecution had limited the charges to the one transport customs intercepted on January 30. The court dismissed the prosecution’s argument that there must have been one or more test-transports to check whether the route was safe. “With drug mules usually dozens of bolitas are always found in the body. The court is not aware of any case whereby only one bolita was found.”

On the day of the transport, Sanchez maintained contact with a colleague in Curacao who was in charge of controlling outgoing cargo. There were also contacts between this superior and the drug dog handler in St. Maarten.

The court held Sanchez accountable for the drugs transport and held it furthermore against him that he had abused the trust the customs department put in him. “The defendant works 23 years for the customs department and he worked in Curacao and in St. Maarten. Due to his extensive network he is like a spider in the web. The defendant has done the worst thing a civil servant can do by violating the trust the society and the government has entrusted him with.

“A customs officer’s task and duty is to prevent that drugs enter the country. However, the defendant has used his knowledge, experience and his network to keep a large shipment of hard drugs beyond the reach of regular controls. The defendant is the rotten apple in the basket. He has caused great damage to the name and the reputation of the customs department. He has also hurt his own colleagues who are doing honest work with integrity every day.”

Judge Van de Ven sentenced Sanchez to 7 years of imprisonment and confiscated three Blackberry phones. Seventy rounds of live ammunition that were found in the defendant’s car will be returned to their rightful owner – the customs department.

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