Arrested and charged for drug offences and photo of ingested drugs
Arrested and charged for drug offences and photo of ingested drugs

Ten Venezuelans, who claim that they were abducted and coerced into ingesting nearly 800 cocaine pellets with an estimated value exceeding EC$300,000, have been sentenced to serve terms of seven and eight years at the Dominica State Prison.

This sentence follows their guilty plea to drug trafficking, importation of cocaine, and false customs declarations.

Five of the men, namely Yhorbby Jose Rosario, age 27, Daike Jose Herrera Ramirez,19, Daniel Jose Rivas Herrera, 23 years old, 33-year-old Hector Luis Ramirez and Pedro Celestino Flores Ramos,37, made their first court appearance before Chief Magistrate Candia Carrette-George on August 25, 2023, where they elected a summary trial at the Roseau Magistrate Court.

At their reappearance in Court on August 28, 2023, they were taken before Magistrate Gloria Augustus, where Police Prosecutor Inspector David Andrew Jr. presented the facts of the case.

On August 20, 2023, at approximately 5:50 p.m., the group of five Venezuelans arrived at Douglas Charles Airport and completed declaration forms. Acting on received intelligence, Customs authorities intercepted them due to suspected cocaine ingestion.

Subsequently, these five men were transported to Dominica China Friendship Hospital (DCFH), where medical examinations revealed multiple pellets in their stomachs and intestines via X-rays. They were admitted to the Alford Ward, where each expelled various non-alimentary objects anally.

Specifically, Yhorbby discharged 84 pellets, weighing 1,038.4 grams; Daike, 70 pellets, weighing 872.8 grams; Daniel, 77 pellets, totalling 1,135.1 grams; Hector, 100 pellets weighing 1,467.9 grams; and Pedro, 55 pellets amounting to 797.2 grams. In total, 386 pellets containing 5,311.4 grams of cocaine were retrieved.

The men were subsequently discharged, and after the investigation, charges of drug trafficking, importation of cocaine, and false customs declarations were preferred against them.

Unrepresented at their court hearing, the Venezuelans informed Magistrate Augustus that they had been working in Brazil when they were abducted by eight individuals who forced them to swallow the cocaine pellets. According to them, their lives and their families' lives were threatened during this ordeal.

The Venezuelans pleaded with the Court for deportation to Venezuela, explaining that they were on their way to Santo Domingo and had planned to spend just one night in Dominica.

The maximum penalty for drug trafficking and importation is

$150,000.00 or three times the street value or a term of imprisonment not exceeding 15 years but not less than seven years.

Magistrate Augustus said the Court was inclined to impose a fine of $75,000 against Hector, $60,000 against Daniel, $50,000 against Yhorbby, $45,000 against Daike and $40,000 against Pedro on the police charges.

However, the men informed the Court that they could not pay the said fine and a term of imprisonment was instead imposed.

Hector, Daniel and Yhorbby were each sentenced to eight years imprisonment, whilst Pedro and Daike were sentenced to seven years.

On the customs charge of false declaration, which will run concurrent (together) with the police sentence, Hector, Daniel and Yhorbby were each sentenced to five years imprisonment, whilst Pedro and Daike were sentenced to four years.

The same day, five other Venezuelans, namely Wilber Jesus Delpretty Oliveros, Jose Del Carmen Serrada Carreno, Emerson Ricardo Machado Campos, Luis Alfredo Machado Campos and Yofra Alexander Martinez, all pleaded guilty to drug trafficking and importation of ingested cocaine in addition to false declaration of customs duty.

They reappeared in Court on August 29, 2023, before Magistrate Michael Laudat for facts and sentencing.

On August 21, 2023, between 7:30 p.m. and 11:00 p.m., the Venezuelan men arrived at the Douglas-Charles Airport in Melville Hall.

They were subsequently arrested on suspicion of carrying non-alimentary objects inside their body. As a result, they were transported to the DCFH and taken to the Radiology Department, where a CT scan revealed the non-alimentary objects inside their body.

The following day, whilst admitted to the Alford Ward, the men excreted several white pellets. They were taken to the drug squad office upon their release from the hospital. With the aid of a Spanish/English interpreter, Constable Bruno counted and weighed the contents in the Venezuelans' presence.

Wilber expelled 130 pellets, which amounted to 1,358.3 grams; Emerson 100 pellets, which totalled 1,263.7 grams; Luis 64 pellets, which was 817.5 grams; Jose 70 pellets, which totalled 1,927.1 grams; and Yofra 99 pellets, which amounted to 1,122.6 grams of cocaine.

The respective contents were opened in each defendant's presence, and Constable Bruno showed them what was inside. They were cautioned, and Wilber replied, "Really, I don't know". Emerson stated, "That comes from Suriname, I don't know which part specifically." Luis said, "I don't know, it could be a drug, it could be flour, I don't know". Jose replied, "I think it is cocaine", and Yofra Martinez said, "I am not a drug trafficker."

Consequently, the police and customs preferred charges against the five men.

At the court hearing, in mitigating on their behalf, "We were fooled and kidnapped," Emerson told the Court, whilst Yofra declared, "My life and my family's life were threatened. I had no choice."

Luis and Jose also shared similar statements. "I was offered a job and took it, but instead, I was forced to do this," Luis said.

In a lengthy mitigation to the Court, Wilber, on the other hand, said he did not regret his decision to seek employment outside of Venezuela given the country's crisis. He, however, expressed remorse for the situation he found himself in.

"I am the breadwinner of my family, and I don't know how they are doing right now. I will not lie to you; things are very difficult in Venezuela, and I jumped at the opportunity to find work, but not this."

He continued, "I am not a delinquent, so please don't categorize me as a drug dealer. Any Venezuelan given an opportunity to work outside the country would take it. Because of that, we are being taken advantage of. I will accept whatever comes my way."

In handing down his sentence, Magistrate Michael Laudat reprimanded the men as, according to him, they broke the trust extended to them as visitors to the nature isle.

"This Court has recognized the effect that cocaine has on the fabric of our society, and it's adding an extra burden on our health sector, especially the way the drugs are being brought in."

Whilst the Senior Magistrate said he would deviate from the sentencing guideline in this case, credit was given to the men for their guilty plea at the first opportunity, cooperation with the police and the fact that they are first-time offenders in this jurisdiction.

Recognizing the hardship in Venezuela, a further 50 per cent discount was awarded.

As a result, for each offence, Magistrate Laudat imposed a sentence of seven years for both, which he ordered to run concurrently (together).

On customs charge of false declaration, although the five Venezuelans pleaded guilty, they objected to an amendment the prosecution sought to make to the complaint.

The non-nationals told the Court that the declaration forms were presented in English, which someone filled out and had them sign.

Consequently, Magistrate Laudat did not accept their guilty pleas and entered a plea of not guilty for the men. He then rescued himself from the matters adjourned to September 6, 2023, and September 28, 2023.