By LAMECH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
A HAITIAN captain and his crew of seven countrymen appeared in Magistrate’s Court yesterday to be arraigned in connection with a $1million cocaine seizure last weekend.
When the eight men stood before Deputy Chief Magistrate Carolita Bethell, it was 51-year-old Port-au-Prince native and “L’Assistant Express” ship captain Ifody Pierre who pleaded guilty to the four drug charges they all faced.
The 89 kilos of cocaine worth $1.3 million, according to the statement Pierre gave to police when he was interviewed, was headed for Grand Bahama where upon entering the port, he would receive $10,000.
Pierre, along with La Tortue city natives Odrick Brave, 49, Amel Noel, 29, Oscar Prosperre, 48, Jwan Dilavois St Fleur, 46, Maurales Verneus, 38, Eridieu Merestal, 42, and Odlyn Henry, 23, each faced a charge of conspiracy to possess dangerous drugs with intent to supply, conspiracy to import dangerous drugs, possession of dangerous drugs with intent to supply and importation of dangerous drugs.
It is claimed the eight men committed these crimes between January 3 and 4.
All of the men, excluding Pierre, captain of the 80-foot vessel, who were found last Friday at the public dock in Inagua, pleaded not guilty to the charges that were read to them with the help of a Creole interpreter.
When the charges were being read and the Magistrate was asking for the plea of the accused, Pierre, the only Haitian of the eight who could speak English, said he had committed the crime on his own and the others had not.
“I guilty cause I brought it in, but they don’t know nothing,” he told the deputy chief magistrate.
At one point during the arraignment, it appeared that Brave would be convicted as well. He said, through his interpreter, that he was guilty because he was on the boat, but said he didn’t know drugs were on the boat. However, his guilty plea was not accepted as Deputy Chief Magistrate said it was not unequivocal.
Following this, the brief facts surrounding Pierre’s arrest were read on the record for the court by prosecutor ASP Ercel Dorsett.
On the day in question, January 4, police officers from Inagua, acting on information received around 9 am, went to the public dock. Officers saw a blue vessel bearing the name “L’Assistant Express.” On boarding they found the eight accused.
The senior officer leading the operation asked to speak with the boat’s captain. Pierre stepped forward and identified himself. The officer said he suspected drugs might be on the vessel and asked Pierre for documents to prove ownership of the boat before noting that a search of the vessel would be done.
The vessel was searched and 89 packages of suspected drugs were found in the water tank.
Pierre was cautioned and arrested before being taken to the Mathew Town police station and later flown to New Providence. The drugs was also transported to the capital later that day.
In an interview with police, Pierre admitted to being captain of the vessel and having knowledge of the drugs. He had arrived in the harbour early that morning and waited for the sun to rise before docking.
He had made an agreement with the owner of the drugs to deposit the drugs to someone in Grand Bahama and was supposed to receive $10,000 upon delivery at the port.
Pierre accepted the facts read by prosecutor, Pierre was formally convicted.
Jomo Campbell, Pierre’s lawyer and lawyer for the remaining accused, made a plea in mitigation on behalf of Pierre.
Mr Campbell said the 51-year-old boat captain is the father of 15 children.
Deputy Chief Magistrate Bethell asked the attorney if 15 was the number she heard.
“Yes,” said the lawyer. He said Pierre had no known criminal history in this jurisdiction, also up until now, he had followed an honest living as a boat captain.
Mr Campbell asked the court to take those facts into consideration, even though his client had already been made aware of recent law that changed the mandatory minimum for the charges to four years imprisonment.
Deputy Chief Magistrate Bethell sentenced Pierre to four years at Her Majesty’s Prison on all four counts and said the sentences were to run concurrently.
She did not make an order concerning confiscation of the boat and drugs as the prosecutor did not indicate whether or not he would proceed with charges against the seven others following Pierre’s admission of guilt.
ASP Dorsett said he would proceed with trial against all of the accused.
The matter was stood down to January 18 at 2pm for a report on a date for the trial.
The seven remaining accused were remanded to prison until that date while Pierre’s sentence took effect on leaving the courtroom.