While criminals have long plied the waters between St. John and Tortola, the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force has now had enough.
British Virgin Islands Police Inspector Bewadney Howe led law enforcement officials in quick action in the wake of a rash of thefts and stripping of boats from several St. John bays last month, which netted four arrests.
Kervin Rymer, Jerome Lettsome and two male minors all of Tortola, were arrested and charged with handling stolen property in connection with criminal activity in Love City.
The arrests were made following an investigation which began after long-time St. John resident Jonathon Doran discovered his 25-foot Sea Vee, with a 200-horsepower Mercury engine, missing from its mooring in Chocolate Hole Bay on Tuesday, June 17.
After reporting the theft to V.I. Police Department officials and the Department of Planning and Natural Resources’ Division of Enforcement, Doran called the U.S. Coast Guard and was urged to call the BVI police, he explained.
Boat Found In Less Than Six Hours
“I called the BVI police around 3:30 p.m. that day and reported my boat stolen,” said Doran. “I got a phone call from an
Inspector Howe at 9 p.m. that night saying that he had found my boat in Sea Cow Bay in Tortola.”
“What happened is that night Inspector Howe left Sea Cow Bay and on his return, he discovered that the engine had now been removed from my boat,” Doran continued. “He proceeded to stake it out and managed to catch one man, but he wasn’t working alone.”
Howe arrested Rymer in Sea Cow Bay the night of June 17 and located Doran’s engine on shore. Doran’s boat, however, wasn’t what the BVI men were after when they snuck into Chocolate Hole Bay on June 17.
The men stole a counter-rotating lower unit, valued at around $5,000, from a 33-foot Scarab also in Chocolate Hole Bay, Doran explained.
“They stripped the Scarab of its lower unit and then just let the boat roll up on the beach,” said Doran. “They used my boat as a get-away and then stripped it once they were back in Tortola. There is about $10,000 worth of damage to my boat.”
Incidents Reported in Cruz, Great Cruz Bays
Once word got out that Doran’s boat was stolen, other reports of stolen and stripped vessels came flooding in, he explained.
“I heard they tried to steal this same lower unit off a boat in the Cruz Bay Creek which was tied up to the Leland Sneed,” he said. “They tried to take his gear box off and also tried to steal the unit from an Ocean Runner boat in Cruz Bay right in the water off-shore.”
“They also stole a 25-foot local fisherman’s boat from Cruz Bay Creek the week before they stole mine,” Doran said.
Doran traveled to Tortola on Wednesday, June 18, to identify his vessel and was given a ride back from the BVI police, he explained.
“I went over to Tortola and identified my boat,” said Doran. “Inspector Howe brought me back to St. John in his BVI Police boat. He went and interviewed the employees at Ocean Runner and the owner of the Scarab.”
“We went by car to Chocolate Hole and looked at the Scarab and he said he would return for fingerprints,” Doran continued.
On June 20, Inspector Howe did indeed return to St. John amd met the VIPD’s forensics unit, Doran added.
“Two days later Howe returned for fingerprints and called me to help him,” said Doran. “He got two positive fingerprints off the Scarab which led to two more arrests.”
The two minors were arrested after their fingerprints were identified on the Scarab with the missing lower unit. After charging the two men with handling stolen goods, Howe didn’t give up on the investigation.
Lettsome’s Scarab Has Stolen Unit
“After Howe came over and took the fingerprints, he got a tip as to where the stolen lower unit might be,” said Doran. “He arrested the owner of a different Scarab in Tortola who tried to say that he had purchased his lower unit in Virgin Gorda.”
The suspicious lower unit was running on Lettsome’s Tortola-regsistered Scarab. Lettsome was arrested when the serial number on his lower unit matched that of the lower unit stolen from Chocolate Hole, Doran explained.
Doran’s Sea Vee remains in Tortola as evidence to be used against the four men charged with handling stolen goods, but it’s not in any danger, he explained.
“I called Inspector Howe concerned about the fact that there are no batteries in my boat now and I was worried about the bilge pumps not working,” he said. “Howe said it would be taken care of and not to worry.”
St. Thomas Connection?
Howe’s investigation is continuing, with a possible connection to St. Thomas marine criminals, however, officials were not willing to comment on the U.S. Virgin Islands connection, according to the inspector.
The criminals weren’t just a few kids out causing trouble, but had extensive knowledge of boats, according to Doran.
“They had stripped the computer, the propellers and the lower unit from the Scarab which is worth about $15,000,” he said.
“They knew exactly what they were doing. They were very slick and organized.”
The whole ordeal might have been a blessing in disguise as the criminals have been caught, Doran explained.
“For me, in one sense, it’s almost a blessing that my boat was stolen because now they are doing something about these guys who come over and steal boats,” he said. “The BVI police were excellent. A big thank you to Inspector Howe”