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Man fined for gun, ammo, drugs while co-accused released

A Venezuelan man who smuggled a gun, ammunition and cocaine into Barbados two years ago has been fined $40 000 while five other men who were charged with him have been set free.

Once Jhoan Jesus Morillo Cortez settles the forthwith fine, he will be released into the custody of immigration officers “for the appropriate action”, Madam Justice Pamela Beckles said as she handed down the sentence on Thursday.

Cortez was part of a multinational group of men accused of importing over $102 500 worth of cocaine into Barbados, as well as having a firearm and four rounds of ammunition.

He took responsibility for the crimes, admitting to committing them within Barbados’ territorial waters on March 20, 2021.

On that night, Coast Guard officials acting on a tip-off ventured to the area of the South Point Lighthouse and spotted a vessel about 20 metres away with no navigation lights.

The vessel, which bore no registration or name, was pursued, and warning shots were fired and the vessel eventually came to a stop about eight nautical miles off Needhams Point.

The cocaine and gun were discovered in bags. The vessel and the men were taken into custody and handed over to the police.

Jhoan Jesus Morillo Cortez (FP)

When questioned by lawmen in the presence of an attorney and an interpreter, Cortez disclosed that he was carrying the bag but “none of my friends know about it”.

He said he had been offered $2 000 to bring it to Barbados.

“I did it because my mother is ill and my wife is pregnant in Trinidad,” Cortez said at the time.

In handing down the sentence in the No. 5 Supreme Court, Justice Beckles said Cortez had the gun – a .38 Smith and Wesson special calibre revolver in good working condition – to generate illegal profit.  

In highlighting the aggravating features of the offences, the judge spoke about the nature and gravity and the fact that the Venezuelan’s actions were premeditated and involved a certain level of planning. 

She also pointed to the prevalence of such offences in society.

Given those factors, Justice Beckles imposed a starting sentence of four years in prison for the drugs, nine years for the firearm, and five years for the ammunition possession.

She then deducted a year, given that Cortez did not waste the court’s time, pleaded guilty at the first opportunity, cooperated with police, accepted responsibility for his actions, and expressed remorse.

The convict was also given a one-third discount for his guilty plea and full credit for the 828 days he spent on remand.

“Having thoroughly reviewed all the circumstances of this case and bearing in mind your limited grasp of the English language, which will make it difficult for you to participate and receive any useful benefits from any of the rehabilitative programmes offered at the prison, this court believes that justice will be served . . . by substituting the remaining term in imprisonment with a fine substantially enough to meet the justice of this case,” the judge ruled.

Justice Beckles ordered Cortez to pay a fine of $35 000 for possession of the firearm and $5 000 for possession of the ammunition. 

“These fines are to be paid forthwith, or the alternative is three years and 37 days in prison for possession of the firearm and 159 days imprisonment for possession of the ammunition,” she said.

Cortez was sentenced to time served for cocaine trafficking and convicted, reprimanded and discharged on the other drug charges.

“Upon payment of the fine, you will be released into the custody of the Immigration Department for the appropriate action,” Justice Beckles told Cortez, through an interpreter. 

He was represented by attorneys Kashka Hemans and Marqueta Haynes.

Following the sentencing, Principal State Counsel Krystal Delaney informed the court that the State would offer no further evidence against the other five men – Guyanese nationals Dexter Curtis Caesar and Leon Jermine Seales; Trinidadians Kern Joseph Leequay and Brandon Felix Richards; and Venezuelan Jimmy Gabriel Meza Hernandez. 

The prosecutor also submitted that the men with no status in Barbados be handed over to immigration officers.

Delaney then made a submission for the vessel on which the men, drugs, gun and ammunition were found to be forfeited to the State. The men, through their attorney-at-law Michael Lashley KC, said they were making no claim to the vessel.

The charges against them were then dismissed.

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