A botched Drug Enforcement Agency sting. An 11-month undercover operation. Confidential informants. Early morning helicopters. At-sea apprehensions. Phoney Venezuelan cocaine buyers. Phone wiretaps. Home raids.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation-led operation on St. John which led to the arrest of seven people on narcotic trafficking charges on May 6 sounded like something out of a Miami Vice episode.
Details about the FBI and DEA’s operation emerged last week after the seven defendants appeared before District Court Magistrate Judge Ruth Miller for preliminary and detention hearings.
On May 6, FBI agents arrested Jerome Potter, Herbert Mason Ferguson, Sr., Herbert Mason Ferguson, Jr., Marisol Ferguson, Terrance Martin, Robert Shinners and Earl Skelton for a number of narcotic trafficking charges. Except for Martin, who lives on St. Thomas and Skelton, who is a resident of the British Virgin Islands, the defendants are St. John residents accused of running a drug operation to possess and distribute cocaine, cocaine base and marijuana.
The defendants were charged with a total of 47 drug trafficking crimes for bringing in cocaine, cocaine base and marijuana into the territory and distributing the drugs among a network of dealers. Judge Miller denied bail to all but three of the defendants last week.
On Tuesday, May 10, Miller granted bail to Robert Shinners, co-owner of Low Key Watersports, on a $50,000 cash or property bond. As terms of his release, Shinners handed over his transportation documents and must comply with a 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew.
Miller also on Tuesday granted Marisol Ferguson bail on a $75,000 unsecured bond and appointed her sister Elizabeth Sonson as her third-party custodian. Marisol Ferguson must call in to the probation office as often as required, avoid contact with witnesses and comply with a 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew.
On Thursday, May 12, Miller granted bail to Terrence Martin of St. Thomas who works for the V.I. Water And Power Authority. He was required to post a $15,000 property and cash bond, continue living at his girlfriend Jeanette Romney’s Hidden Valley home, report to the probation office, avoid contact with all witnesses and be tested for controlled substances.
Miller denied bail on Thursday to the other four defendants citing the men as flight risks and dangers to the community.
In District Court on Wednesday, May 11, FBI special agent Michael Day testified about the details of the bureau’s nearly year-long operation on St. John. Working in conjunction with the DEA, FBI officers watched and listened in on undercover drug buys using confidential informants and recorded dozens of phone calls from wiretapped phones, according to a report on the St. John Source.
Day cited 16 different telephone calls and transactions dating from June 18, 2010 to April 26, 2011, according to the report. While Miller didn’t allow Day to give details of the contents of the wiretaps, the FBI agent said the information led the team to conclude the seven men were involved in a drug ring, according to the report.
The FBI agent painted the scene with Skelton and Potter as the main suppliers of the drugs with Ferguson Sr., his son Ferguson Jr. and wife Marisol Ferguson running the distribution side of the operation and Martin as a “fill-in” supplier when Potter was not available, according to the report on the on line news site.
Shinners regularly bought cocaine from Ferguson, Sr., according to the report.
With information from the wiretaps and informants, the FBI planned a sting operation for the morning of May 6. The bureau’s informant set up a deal with Ferguson to buy 300 kilograms of cocaine from a supposed Venezuelan dealer for $5,000 per kilo, who would give a 10 percent cut to the “boat man” who picked up the delivery, according to the report on stjohnsource.com.
After being approached by Ferguson, Potter allegedly agreed to the deal and got Skelton to join him to pick up the bale at certain coordinates about 10 miles south of Cruz Bay at 4 a.m. on May 6, according to the report.
Which is where the sting apparently fell apart. Although agents witnessed the suspects arriving at the planned drop site, the FBI’s plane — loaded with reams of paper disguised as bricks of cocaine wrapped in trash bags and burlap sacks — had trouble taking off and then dropped the drugs in the wrong location, according to the report on the St. John Source website.
Potter and Skelton never actually picked up the shipment and tried to flee, but were easily apprehended, according to the report.
Later that day, FBI agents executed search warrants at Ferguson, Sr.’s Estate Grunwald house and Potter’s Estate Lower Carolina house as well as Potter’s Cruz Bay nightclub Find da Spot, according to the report on the St. John Source.
The raid on Ferguson, Sr.’s house netted a one-kilogram brick of cocaine, 19 half-ounce bags of cocaine in the bathtub, 100 jewel-sized bags of marijuana in Ferguson, Jr.’s backpack and two handgun’s under the son’s bed, according to the report on the online news site.
Nothing was found in Potter’s nightclub, but in Potter’s home, agents found a magazine clip and a safe, the contents of which have not yet been examined, according to the report.
The operation was a joint federal investigation involving the United States Attorney’s Office, the FBI, DEA, U.S. Marshal Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, National Parks Service, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Border Patrol, V.I. National Guard, British Virgin Islands Police Department, Customs and Border Protection, Customs Air Marine Branch and V.I. Police Department.
All seven defendants are scheduled to appear before Judge Miller on Wednesday, May 25, for an arraignment hearing.