Demand 2 years against Antiguan suspect – Human smuggler is telling fairytales, prosecutor says

POSTED: 10/25/12 12:15 PM

St. Maarten – The story 56-year-old Cobert McElroy J. told in court yesterday was too good to be true and prosecutor Tineke Kamps did not believe a word of it. For an attempt to smuggle nine Cubans and a Dominicano to St. Thomas on July 17, she demanded 2 years imprisonment against the Antiguan, and seizure of his boat Lady Gina. She also announces a procedure to seize other assets the prosecution considers the fruit of criminal activities. Judge Tamara Tijhuis will pronounce her verdict on November 14.

The defendant denied the charges and told the court that his passengers had paid him $50 each to take them from Antigua to Barbuda. He said that somebody had put something in his drink, that he had gotten drunk and fallen asleep at sea and that when he woke up to the Coast Guard he was in St. Maarten’s coastal waters. He claimed that at that moment, he had no idea where he was, because the sky was overcast and the seas were rough.
The defendant said that he had left port at midnight (at 2 a.m. according to his passengers) because he still wanted to go fishing later that morning.
Passengers told investigators however that they knew they were on an illegal trip and that the route to American territory in St. Thomas via Antigua is well-known.
“There are many witness statements against the defendant. They all say that they paid $1,700 per person to travel from Antigua to St. Thomas. This man is telling us a fairytale. The story that somebody put something in his drink is simply not true.”
“The power of the numbers is not favorable for my client,” attorney mr. Geert Hatzmann said. “I am not able to get around the witness statements.”
He did not attempt to get his client acquitted but mentioned instead nine factors that ought to play a role in determining a punishment. Among them are membership of a criminal organization, the professionalism of the defendant, the way smuggled people are treated and the profit. mr. Hatzmann found many indications to justify a mild punishment.. The passengers say that they all paid between $1,500 and $1,700 but that they gave the money to someone else. It cannot be established that my client received that money.”

Referring to a court case of last year wherein human smugglers were sentenced to 1 year, mr. Hatzmann said that the prosecutor’s demand was very high. He suggested a 1-year prison sentence, with 9 months suspended so that the defendant could go home immediately.

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