Organizers fatal smuggling trip face 10 and 8 years

POSTED: 04/1/11 1:03 PM

St. Maarten – Two suspects involved in a human smuggling transport on December 5 that cost eight Haitians their life, are facing prison sentences of 10 and 8 years. A third suspect, who played a minor role, is facing 30 months of imprisonment, but the attorneys for all the defendants asked the court to acquit their clients. Judge Mr. M. Keppels will pronounce the verdicts in the second leg of this so-called Cerberus-trial on April 19.

The most serious charge against the defendants- fisherman Louis B., 44, Louis S.-M., 63 and retired civil servant Humphrey Joaquim P., 60 – concerns a transport that left St. Maarten on December 5 of last year. But the journey of the Jesus La, a small vessel fit to carry at most ten people, while there were 33 refugees on board – was doomed.

Near Tortola in the British Virgin Islands the captain (identified in court as a man called Plaisimont, who is currently detained in Tortola) who was on the run from the Coast Guard, ran his vessel at high speed on a reef before jumping ship and shouting to his passengers, “You never saw the captain.” The Jesus La capsized and eight people drowned, among them several young children.

Humphrey Joaquim P. willingly admitted in court that he took four people from the house of co-defendant Louis S.-M. to Mullet Bay on December 5. “I did it as a favor. We have been friends for a long time,” he told the court. “I did not realize it was something illegal.”

P. said that he only read about what happened to the transport when he read it in the local newspapers. The pensioner added that he was not paid to do anything. Later his attorney Mr. S.R. Bommel pointed out that her client sometimes drove a friend of his Luis Ortega across the island and that this man compensated him for food, gas and the use of his phone.

Louis S.-M. confessed to his involvement with the transport on December 5, and with another transport on August 14, during police interrogations. But yesterday in court he changed his tune and said that he did not know anything about the August transport. He admitted that two people had stayed in his house for a couple of days in December, and that he took them to the boat shortly before its ill-fated departure.

The third defendant, fisherman Louis B. denied anything and everything the court put to him. “I don’t know nothing,” he kept saying, using a double denial.

The Cerberus investigation started in July of last year with the objective to take the main players in the local human smuggling scene off the market. Investigators started by tapping the phone of a cab driver, Erold Montgomery B., and these taps revealed the network that was involved in smuggling mainly Haitians via St. Maarten to American territory in the Virgin Islands.

The transport that left on December 5 with the Jesus La carried 33 passengers and two crew members who probably paid $500 in advance and committed to paying another $1,000 upon arrival in either St. Thomas or St. John. The down payment for this trip alone was worth $16,500 to the smugglers.

The transport on August 14 filled two boats with a combined total of 95 passengers looking for a better life. One boat reached St. John, the other one, the Dieu Si  Bon captained by Joseph N., stranded near the deserted Man Island near Tortola.

The defendants are also charged with several attempts to smuggle people via St. Maarten to American territory, to illustrate that the members of the group operated as a criminal organization. A July 24 transport failed, because the boat encountered engine trouble and had to return to Cole Bay. And in November, an arrest team took down the bus of Erold Montgomery B. carrying ten Cubans who were on their way to a boat.

Louis S.-M. and Louis B. were both arrested the day after the fateful journey of the Jesus La on December 5. A third suspect, Haitian Jean Journel C., 50, was also detained, but his trial was postponed yesterday because his attorney Mr. J.G. Bloem was down with bronchitis. The arrest of Humphrey Joaquim P. followed on January 18, but he was released due to cell capacity shortage two weeks ago, on March 18. (See page 3 for related story:  Haitians don’t talk).


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