Human smuggling suspects face 2.5 to 3.5 years imprisonment

POSTED: 03/3/11 12:38 PM

Six hour trial for first two defendants in Cerberus-trial

St. Maarten – The trial of five defendants who are accused of involvement in a human smuggling ring that fell apart on November 14 of last year, took well over six hours yesterday – and the Court in first Instance only dealt with two of the suspects. The other three will go on trial on April 13. The prosecution demands 30 months against Marcellus L.M, 36, from St. Lucia, and 42 months against Maikel D.T., a 28-year old Cuban who lives in Tampa, Florida. Judge Mr. Keppels will pronounce her verdict on March 23.

The Cerberus investigation that resulted in the trial started in July of last year when there were strong indications that a 64-year old local cab driver Erold Montgomery B. (who was born in St. Kitts) was involved in human smuggling. Investigators obtained a warrant to tap his phones and soon established contacts between the cab driver, ,middlemen and captains. When the sport fishing vessel Braveheart, captained by St. Lucian Griffith Owner J., 35, sailed via Dominica to St. Maarten on November 14 carrying ten Cuban refugees, authorities were ready for them.
The taxi carrying the Cubans to their accommodation on St. Maarten was stopped on the Walter Nisbeth Road. The cab driver and the Cubans were arrested along with another suspect, Paul C., 61, from Tortola. Near the boat, police arrested captain J., and his second in command Marcellus M. In a hotel in Maho the fifth suspect, Maikel D.T. was apprehended as well.

Three days before the boat arrived in St. Maarten, the phone taps revealed a contact with “the Cuban lady” in St. Lucia, who was during the trial identified as a woman named Adela. From this call, investigators learned that the Braveheart was scheduled to arrive in St. Maarten on November 14.

Paul c. and captain J.’s trial were postponed until April 13 because their attorney Mr. Z.J. Bary is off-island. Erold B.’s case moved to the same date, because his attorney Mr. J.G. Bloem had other cases to deal with in the appeals court at the same time.
Mikael D.T. admitted to Judge Keppels that he met cab driver b. the day before the arrival of the Braveheart and that he paid him $2,000.
According to the defendant, a friend of his in the United States had asked him to travel to St. Maarten to make this payment as a favor. The money was meant to pay for the trip of two Cuban girls from St. Maarten to St. John’s in the US Virgin Islands. D.T. said that he saw the whole affair as a nice opportunity to visit St. Maarten, but prosecutor Mr. M.L.P. Ridderbeks saw things differently.
She considered him as one of the organizers of the trip. The ten Cubans that landed in St. Maarten apparently paid each $12,500 to the Cuban lady in St. Lucia, and Mikael D.T. was in St. Maarten to supervise the continuation of the journey and to pay off cab driver B.

Ridderbeks said that Marcellus M. had acted as the second captain on the Braveheart, or at least as the helper of captain J. “This was a 17-hour trip, and during those trips captains never sail alone,” she said.
The prosecutor started out by saying that human smuggling is a daily activity in St. Maarten. “People arrive on the island illegally every day and they leave illegally as well. Others remain here and disappear into the illegality on the island. The trips they make are often done with unseaworthy vessels.”

Ridderbeks said that the Cerberus-investigation was started last year to take the main players in the local human smuggling scene off the market. With cab driver B., the prosecution says it has nailed one of these players.
The prosecutor said that there is plenty of proof against the five defendants, and that captain J. and Marcellus M. were also involved in an earlier transport in September of last year. That attempt to get refugees to the US virgin island also failed, because the passengers were apprehended by immigration in Tortola.
The Cubans involved in the transport had received a visitor’s letter from their government that enabled them to leave their country legally for a visit to St. Lucia.

Ridderbeks said that the human smuggling activities in St. Maarten have become so extensive that the punishment for the defendants must be such that it deters the average human smuggler.
In her demand, the prosecutor took into account that both defendants had spend far too long in a police cell. She included a reduction of 6 months for this circumstance. Against Marcellus M. she demanded 30 months imprisonment, and against Mikael D.T. 42 months.

Defense attorney Mr. J.J. de Vrieze asked the court to exclude statements his client Marcellus M. had made to the police from evidence. These statements had been taken in English, written in Dutch and then translated again in English for the benefit of the defendant. De Vrieze said that the detectives spoke “school-English,” and he pleaded for the presence of interpreters during interrogations.

The attorney pointed out that his client denies he worked as a crew member. “He could get a ride on the boat to St. Maarten where he wanted to do some shopping,” De Vrieze said. He indicated that captain J. had misled his client by taking him on as a “paper crew member.”

De Vrieze, a former public prosecutor, also asked the court to declare the prosecution inadmissible because the police had lied to his client, and because of the lengthy detention at the police station. He mentioned eighteen arguments to support his position that detention for such a long time in a police cell was unlawful and disproportionately aggravating for his client.
De Vrieze also stressed that his client had not been paid for the trip and that no money was found on him upon his arrest. “He only knew captain J, because they have been friends for more than ten years. The Cubans who saw him on the boat have assumed that he played a role in the transport just because he was there.”
De Vrieze asked the court to end his client’s detention immediately. “He played a marginal role. The prosecutor’s demand is disproportionate. If there is any punishment at all it should not exceed the time he spent already in preventive custody.”

Mikael D.T.’s attorney Mr. B.B. Brooks said that her client denies any involvement with the smuggling to St. Maarten. Instead, she pointed out that her client had come to St. Maarten to pay for the trip of two Cuban girls out of St. Maarten. “But he only found out about this after he arrived in St. Maarten.”
Because of his marginal role, Brooks asked the court to acquit her client. “There is no proof for what he has been charged with,” she concluded.

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