Small fish in big cocaine case faces suspended prison sentence

POSTED: 10/28/11 11:19 AM

St. Maarten – Slowly but surely a picture starts to emerge of the gangsters that are involved in the local cocaine trade. Yesterday morning Andre Fernando D., a 62-year-old pensioner stood trial for his involvement in an attempt to smuggle 10.3 kilos of cocaine from St. Maarten to St. Croix on June 25. While D. is a small fish in the criminal pond, he is significant to investigators, because he opened up to them in the face of threats to himself and his family from thugs that are linked to the main suspect Roberto F.
The long and short of the story is as follows. Roberto F. was looking for a reliable transport to St. Croix where he wanted to collect $1.7 million for a successful 50 kilo-cocaine transport he had organized to the United States. He planned to bring 10.3 kilos of cocaine with him for this trip.
The boat F. wanted to use for the trip was registered in the name of the wife of Eric Lake, who was liquidated on August 17 on A.T. Illidge Road together with Kevin Gumbs.
Pensioner D. was singled out by F. as an assistant, charged with preparing the boat for the trip to St. Croix. When F. smelled a rat, F. pressured him, so in the end the pensioner bought gas for the boat and he did some other shopping, but he balked at the suggestion that he come along for the ride.
That boat ride to St. Croix never happened, because the main suspects were arrested while they were on their way to the boat with the drugs. Victor G., a 26-year-old from Puerto Rico, Pedro G., a 37-year-old from St. Croix and Roberto Bernard F., 54-year-old St. Maartener were taken into custody. The first two suspects were found with the drugs in their car. Pensioner D. was arrested near the boat.
Initially, D. refused to talk to investigators, but in the end he broke down under pressure and opened up. On July 29 he was released from custody because of his age and his health. But his new-found freedom was no pleasure trip, because associates of Roberto F. threatened him, his attorney mr. G. Hatzmann said in court yesterday.
“They told my client, old man, you better change your statement. Remember what happened to Cappuccino?”
That was a clear reference to Hector Miguel Arrindell, a suspect in the Snowflake cocaine-smuggling case who was liquidated on May 25, a day before he was scheduled to stand trial. His brother Rodolfo, also a Snowflake-suspect, was liquidated on July 7.
D. had therefore plenty of reasons to be concerned about his well-being and his family’s safety, but he stood by his statements.
“I did not know what they had. They asked me to help with the boat and they paid me $500,” he told the court yesterday.
The defendant admitted that he realized something was wrong and when Roberto F. wanted him to sail with him on the boat he refused, saying that he had no understanding of GPS-systems.
Prosecutor mr. B. den Hartigh said that the investigation started based on information his office had received from the American Drug Enforcement administration DEA.
“Within a few days we had a pretty accurate picture of what was going on. There was a plan to pick up $1.7 million with a boat in St. Croix, but they did not want to go with an empty boat. We could not let that boat sail knowing there would be drugs on board,” he said.
mr. Den Hartigh said that the defendant had played a minor role.
“He says that he did not know what kind of cargo the boat would carry, but he did know that something was amiss, and he did help out.”
The prosecutor accepted that D. had acted under pressure.
“But that pressure was not so enormous that he could not have acted differently. He could have gone to the police and say that he was being threatened, but he did not do that.”
Taking all circumstances into consideration, mr. den Hartigh demanded a 15-month suspended prison sentence with 2 years of probation and 240 hours of community service.
mr. G. Hatzmann asked the court to acquit his client or to even refrain from prosecuting him based on the argument that he had acted under psychological duress.
Hatzmann said that the charge of exporting drugs cannot stand, because the cocaine was confiscated before it was put aboard the boat.
“My client was arrested before the drugs reached the boat.”
The attorney said that his client had never touched the drugs, and that the defendants had not reached the stage of executing their plan. He compared the situation with a human smuggling case, wherein the court ruled that the execution of that particular plan had started when four Brazilians bound for the United States were put aboard a boat.
“There is no difference between those Brazilians and the drugs. The principle is the same,” Hatzmann said.
He pointed out that D. had played a minor role as “the messenger boy of Roberto F.” and asked the court to drop the charges; if the court does not honor that request, Hatzmann asked for leniency and for a fully conditional sentence.
Judge mr. Keppels will pronounce her verdict on November 9.

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