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Dominican National Sentenced for Major Cocaine Trafficking in U.S. Waters

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In a significant development reported by U.S. Attorney Delia L. Smith, Leandro De Los Santos, a 33-year-old from the Dominican Republic, has been sentenced to a 70-month prison term. This sentencing follows his admission of guilt in a case involving the possession and planned distribution of a large quantity of cocaine on a vessel within U.S. maritime jurisdiction.

This case came to light on September 11, 2022, when a U.S. Coast Guard Cutter, the U.S.S. Billings, on a standard patrol near the Dominican Republic, intercepted an unmarked go-fast boat. Located about 80 nautical miles south of Bani, Dominican Republic, the vessel lacked any identifying features like a flag, registration, or name, and was later confirmed by the Dominican Republic Navy as not registered in their country. This lack of state registration placed the vessel under U.S. jurisdiction.

Upon interception, the Coast Guard apprehended De Los Santos along with Victor Reyes-Martinez on the vessel and confiscated an enormous cache of 630 kilograms of cocaine. Reyes-Martinez, who also entered a guilty plea for related charges, received a 57-month prison sentence earlier on March 30, 2023.

The arrest and successful prosecution of De Los Santos and Reyes-Martinez highlight the coordinated efforts of the United States Coast Guard, Homeland Security Investigations, and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Assistant U.S. Attorney Evan Rikhye spearheaded the legal proceedings.

This case is a part of a larger investigation by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF). The OCDETF program is instrumental in combating significant drug trafficking, money laundering operations, gangs, and transnational criminal organizations threatening the U.S. It operates on a strategy that integrates intelligence-driven tactics, leveraging the combined expertise of various agencies under a cohesive prosecutorial framework.

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Crime

Kansas Man Charged for Not Declaring Firearm During St. Thomas Visit

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ST. THOMAS — A Kansas man is facing charges in the District Court of the Virgin Islands for failing to declare a firearm during his visit to St. Thomas.

Customs and Border Protection officials, conducting routine inspections at the Cyril E. King Airport on Thursday, discovered the undeclared weapon during a secondary search prompted by a canine alert on a bag belonging to Robert Dean Zoch’s travel partner.

The search revealed a loaded Smith & Wesson .38 caliber revolver in Zoch’s checked luggage. The firearm, packed with five rounds of ammunition, was accompanied by an additional 10 rounds in speedloaders.

Zoch, a resident of Kansas, was on his way home on a Spirit Airlines flight with a layover in Orlando, Florida, when he was detained and questioned by Homeland Security Investigations agents. He admitted to knowingly packing the weapon in his bag without securing it, citing haste as the reason for his oversight. Zoch also confessed to not informing the airline about the firearm on either leg of his trip and admitted to lacking a federal license for the firearm.

According to court documents, Zoch claimed he carried the gun for protection due to reports of shootings in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Charged with failure to provide written notice of a firearm to a common carrier, Zoch appeared before U.S. Magistrate Ruth Miller. He was ordered to sign an unsecured $15,000 bond for his release pending trial. His travel will be restricted to Shawnee County, Kansas, and St. Thomas. Additionally, his firearms will be held by authorities, and he must report regularly to the U.S. probation office.

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Crime

BVI Pastor and Radio Host Arrested on Allegations of Fraudulent Government Contracts

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Claude Skelton Cline, a well-known pastor and radio personality in the British Virgin Islands, has been arrested and charged with obtaining property by deception, false accounting, and proceeds of crime.

The arrest follows an announcement from former Governor John Rankin last March, revealing that an audit, recommended by the Commission of Inquiry, scrutinized government contracts awarded to Cline between 2008 and 2010. According to Rankin, the audit uncovered “failures in good governance and improper use of public funds.” The findings were forwarded to the Office of the Attorney General, the Director of Public Prosecution, and the police.

BVI police stated that Cline’s arrest on Friday culminated an 18-month criminal investigation initiated by the audit’s findings. The audit revealed that Cline received over $350,000 during this period with negligible results from his consultancy work, leading auditors to conclude that the contracts primarily benefited Cline financially rather than providing value to the government.

“The government failed to receive value for money on these contracts,” the report stated. In response to the public disclosure of the audit findings last year, Cline asserted his innocence, claiming, “I did a phenomenal job for my part in a two-part contractual arrangement.” He further stated, “I feel no compunction to defend myself.”

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Joseph Anthony Ramirez Faces Attempted Murder Charges After Assaulting Officers in St. Croix

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At the Candido Guadalupe Housing Complex in St. Croix, a report of domestic violence on Sunday afternoon quickly turned perilous for responding officers, culminating in attempted murder charges for 37-year-old Joseph Anthony Ramirez.

The sequence of events unfolded when the Virgin Islands Police Department received a call around 2:33 p.m. from the 911 Emergency Call Center regarding a disturbance at apartment 85, building 7. Upon arrival, officers were informed by the victim that Ramirez had vandalized her apartment. As one officer began to investigate, Ramirez unexpectedly attacked, initiating an assault by placing the officer in a chokehold, threatening his ability to breathe.

The attack escalated even after a good Samaritan and the victim intervened, enabling the officer to momentarily escape. Despite being informed of his arrest, Ramirez attacked again, this time inflicting a severe laceration above the officer’s eyelid and resuming the chokehold. The situation required backup, with two additional officers arriving at the scene before Ramirez could be subdued and arrested.

Charged with attempted murder and third-degree assault, Ramirez was subsequently read his Miranda Rights, booked, and transported to the John Bell Correctional Facility. Unable to meet the initial $100,000 bail, Ramirez was held until a court hearing on Tuesday where his bail was reduced to $10,000. He remains in custody, with a bail hearing scheduled for later today, May 15.

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