Jury Hands Down Convictions on All Counts in St. John/St. Thomas Drug Ring Trial

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Just before midnight, late Thursday night, April 5, a jury handed down convictions in the federal case against four defendants charged with operating a complex cocaine and crack ring on St. Thomas and St. John.

After a four day trial, the jury presented the verdict to District Court Judge Curtis Gomez at 11:30 p.m. on April 5, five hours after jurors had requested to go home and return the next day, according to a report in the V.I. Daily News.

Instead of sleeping on it, the jury found the defendants guilty on all charges. Convicted last week in District Court were Earl Skelton of the British Virgin Islands, Jerome Potter of St. John, James Stephens of St. John and Kassar Chitolie of St. Thomas.

Skelton was convicted of one count of conspiracy to distribute cocaine; Potter was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to distribute cocaine, and use of a communications device during the distribution of a controlled substance; Stephens was convicted of one count of conspiracy to distribute cocaine, and the sale or distribution of a controlled substance, according to a report in the V.I. Daily News.

Chitolie was convicted of the sale or distribution of a controlled substance, sale or distribution of marijuana, and the use of a communications device during the distribution of marijuana, according to the V.I. Daily News report.

The four men, and at eight other St. John and St. Thomas residents, were nabbed by federal agents on May 6, 2011, after a sting operation which involved an early morning drop of a fake 300-kilogram bail of cocaine off the coast of St. John.

Over four days of testimony in District Court last week, federal agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation shared details of their more than year-long investigation into the St. John and St. Thomas drug ring, according to reports.

 Testimony detailed two confidential informants and more than 10,000 hours of wire-tapped cell phone conversations about drug deals, according to the V.I. Daily News report.

In addition to the four men standing trial last week, federal agents also arrested St. John residents Herbert Ferguson, his wife, Marisol Ferguson, and their son Mason Ferguson and Robert Shinners on May 6, 2011. St. Thomas resident Terrance Martin was also arrested on May 6.

Felix Olivieri, Lincoln Son and Evan Johnson were also arrested in connection with the federal drug ring investigation, according to published reports.

During the Ferguson family arrests, agents found more than a pound of marijuana, two unlicensed firearms and almost three pounds of cocaine at the Ferguson home. All of the Fergusons have taken plea agreements.

Shinners, who was charged with eight counts of using an electronic device during the distribution of a controlled substance and eight counts of possession of a controlled substance, pleaded guilty to one count of simple possession in an agreement with the prosecution, according to the report in the V.I. Daily News.

Shinners faces a maximum of one year behind bars and is scheduled to be sentenced on June 7 in District Court.

The prosecution dismissed without prejudice the charges against Olivieri and Son while Martin and Johnson have accepted plea agreements, according to the report.

Local attorneys Rafael Muilenburg represented Skelton; Boyd Sprehn represented Chitolie and Francis Jackson Jr. represented Stephens, according to the V.I. Daily News report.

Potter was represented by Philadelphia-based attorney Daniel Cevallos, according to the report.

The defendants are scheduled to be sentenced on July 12 in District Court, according to reports.