Police officers board their vehicles after searches in various locations around the village of Owia. (Photo credit: Roshelle Baptiste Facebook Page)
News
January 28, 2022
One fined $64,000, several others questioned after million dollar cocaine bust

Cocaine with a street value of upwards of a million dollars was discovered during police raids in Owia last weekend, with several persons being taken into police custody and one person being charged.

Owia resident and former cruise sailor, Rodney Thomas

Owia resident and former cruise sailor, Rodney Thomas sweated in the air-conditioned Serious Offences Court (SOC) where he faced charges of possession of 3623g of cocaine with intent to supply and for the purposes of drug trafficking until finally he received a $64,000 fine.

An older man and woman sorted cash bills once the sentence was handed down, and the forthwith sum of $10,000 was paid therefore buying the 33-year-old his freedom while he pays the remaining sums of the money by May and August.

Commissioner of Police (COP) Colin John has confirmed that, acting on information, the police conducted raids in the North Windward community of Owia in the early morning of January 22. During this operation multiple places were searched and, in Thomas’ case, over three kilograms of cocaine was found, while in another, 54 kilograms of what is thought to be cocaine was discovered.

The COP was asked whether the drugs are thought to be connected in some way, and he replied that based on their information it is thought that they are.

It is estimated that five or six persons may have been taken into custody in connection with the operation, including about four/five members of staff of the Owia Clinic, which was also searched.

One person was in custody yesterday morning but it is not certain whether they were released or will be charged.

While the COP acknowledged that the operation was part of a wider investigation he chose not to elaborate.

He was asked what he would say to persons who believe that cocaine is increasing on the streets, and the Commissioner noted that “we are working along with other regional law enforcement agencies to ensure that the Caribbean is safe. We know that we have challenges as regard our porous border but notwithstanding that we are doing all that we can with the assistance of the coastguard and other regional agencies to ensure that drugs like this and firearms, humans, are not trafficked into and out of St Vincent and the Grenadines.”

The Commissioner said that he wanted to thank “persons for assisting the police in this investigation; we continue to solicit the support and the co-operation of the members of the public.”

John also assured that the exhibits are being kept securely.

Up until press time, Thomas appears to be the only one to claim ownership of any amount of the drug, and he did so when the officers discovered it in his mother’s bedroom. One of his lawyers, Grant Connell, who appeared with Bruce Law Chambers, told the court that his client believed the knapsack to contain Marijuana and not the “wretched” cocaine. He said his client told the police this, and pointed out that this was written in their statement.

Arresting officer, PC 893 John was among a party of narcotics personnel who conducted the search of Thomas’ home at 5:30a.m, and she was the one to find the knapsack in a grey barrel in the defendant’s mother’s bedroom, containing three rectangular packages wrapped in black plastic bags and sealed with tape.

Residents of Owia look on as police officers search various properties for cocaine. (Photo Credit: Roshelle Baptiste Facebook Page)

“I take full responsibility of the bag and its contents” the 33-year-old told her when she cut open the packages in his presence.

He explained that on Wednesday, presumably January 19, he went with some others to help another boat having trouble off the coast of De Volet.

Some hours into their venture, a man came from the shores of De Volet and gave him a bag to give to someone.

He said okay, and collected the bag. They then journeyed back to Owia, and he reckoned that someone possibly saw him with the bag, as persons were around.

“…I humbly submit that this young man has absolutely no nexus to controlled substances like that,” Connell said yesterday.

Thomas “lives in Owia. Owia is close to ganja land. We live in ganja land, we are blessed to have it, I’m not ashamed to say that,” the lawyer noted.

“…And when it is compressed it takes a similar shape depending on which press you use. This young man who got that package to carry from somebody to hold for somebody, was of the opinion that it was weed,” Connell said.

Even though it was marijuana Thomas still had it in his mind that the substance was illegal.

“What did he do?” Connell asked, “He carries it off the streets, straight home to hide it, because he is still of the mindset that he is not one of the calibre in St Vincent who could walk around with that three pounds of weed.”

The courts have to use the sentencing guidelines of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC). The counsel noted that the judges who fashioned the guidelines, in their wisdom, included as a mitigating feature “mistaken belief of the offender regarding the type of drug.”

While the counsel said his client was unemployed, he also noted, “from sailing many a Vincentian are able to put a little thing aside for a rainy day. Fortunately for him he did that. He had a little thing put aside as a savings for a rainy day. He was not contemplating ever that he would be in this mess.”

“He has scraped whatever little he had, savings, and brought it in cash, sitting outside. It amounts to $4400.”

He asked the court to impose a fine, assuring that his family members, waiting outside, would keep his client on the straight and narrow as he has been for 33 years.

Prosecutor, Renrick Cato said that the drug is not grown locally, and that Owia is a village with a wharf, and it is relatively close to neighbouring island, St Lucia.

They gave the wholesale street value as being $20,000 to $25,000 a kilo.

Cato also noted that it was “very” interesting that when Thomas heard police were in the area, he admitted to moving the drug from his room to his mother’s.

Cocaine is a substance that destroys many people, and this incident has caused alarm to the village of Owia, the prosecutor stressed.

He said that the sentence the court imposes must be one that shows a zero tolerance for the drug, and be a deterrent to others.

Chief Magistrate, Rechanne Browne started the sentence by indicating that what she doesn’t want is for persons to think “let us continue to traffick and possess cocaine because you will get away easily.”

“…As stated by your own counsel, this type of substance is a wretched substance, the damage it causes to persons is sometimes irreparable…”

As a starting point, using the guidelines, she determined that due to the amount of substance and his role, Thomas fell into the lesser category.

“…The range that the court could apply is from non-custodial to 20%(of the maximum of seven)” in this category.

Browne said that every case is looked at on its own merit, and in this case she decided to start at a non-custodial.

The magistrate looked at the value of the drug, noting that the court may choose to adopt a punitive value of three times this.

Based on information given by the prosecutor, she adopted a value of $72,000 for the kilos and added a 1.5 punitive effect, to land at $108,000.

Mitigating factors outweighing the aggravating factors took the fine down by $4000 and then $8000.

His early guilty plea slashed the fine by $32,000.

The court was left with $64,000.

For possession with intent to supply Thomas will pay $30,000 and for possession for the purposes of drug trafficking, he will pay $34,000.

For the possession charge he was to pay $10,000 forthwith or spend six months in prison. The balance must be paid by May 2, or there will be a default of 11 months.

He must pay the additional $34,000 by August 31 or spend one year in jail.

After being granted his freedom from the custody he has been kept in since last Saturday, a woman who appeared to be his mother embraced Thomas outside the court.