MIAMI — British Virgin Islands Premier Andrew Alturo Fahie and the Caribbean territory’s port director, Oleanvine Maynard, were arrested on drug trafficking and money laundering charges Thursday after they went to a Miami airport to check on a huge cash payment that was promised them by an undercover operative pretending to be a Mexican cartel member.
The U.S. undercover probe actually began last fall with a series of mysterious meetings between a confidential government informant posing as the Mexican drug smuggler and a group claiming to be Lebanese Hezbollah operatives with connections to the Caribbean territory’s leaders, according to a criminal complaint and affidavit filed in the case.
With their help, the U.S. informant eventually met up with BVI’s premier, Fahie, the port director, Maynard, and her son, Kadeem Maynard, to lure them into providing protection for purported Colombian cocaine shipments through the British Virgin Islands to Miami, U.S. authorities say.
In return, the U.S. informant, who claimed to be working for the Sinaloa cartel, promised to pay the premier and port director $700,000 at first and millions later on as their cut of the planned cocaine shipments — all during recorded meetings in the British Virgin Islands and Miami in March and April, according to the documents filed in Miami federal court.
On Thursday, BVI’s premier, Fahie, and its port director, Maynard, were arrested by Drug Enforcement Administration agents when the foreign officials went to Miami-Opa-locka Executive Airport to check out the purported $700,000 cash payment on an airplane that they believed was destined for the British Virgin Islands, according to the affidavit.<center><div id=”PB300x250_IA_M_HB”></div></center>
According to the 15-page DEA affidavit, when he was taken into custody, Fahie confirmed his identity but then asked: “Why am I getting arrested? I don’t have any money or drugs.”
Both foreign officials, who were in Miami for a cruise convention, went to the Opa-locka airport Thursday morning after the DEA informant and another undercover operative told them that it was their initial payoff, according to the affidavit filed by federal prosecutor Frederic Shadley.
South Florida defense attorney Richard Della Fera said he was contacted by Fahie’s family, but that it was premature for him to comment about the case.
Both Fahie and Maynard, who are being held at the Federal Detention Center, are scheduled to have their first appearances in Miami federal court on Friday afternoon. The son of BVI’s port director, Kadeem Maynard, was also arrested in connection with the undercover DEA case, but not in Miami.
All three defendants are charged with conspiring to import more than five kilos of cocaine into the United States and conspiring to commit money laundering.
It was not immediately clear if the two other defendants had contacted defense attorneys for representation.
Throughout the criminal affidavit, the DEA informant emphasized the critical role of the British territory — an archipelago with a population of only 30,000 that is adjacent to the U.S. Virgin Islands — in the Mexican cartel’s purported drug-smuggling operation. In one recorded meeting in Tortola earlier this month, the informant described how the transport plan would start with test runs to Miami and eventually make them rich.
At one point during an April 7 meeting with BVI’s premier, the port director and her son, the confidential informant gave Fahie $20,000 — saying “this is a good faith gift to seal that we have an agreement,” according to the affidavit.
Despite the gesture, Fahie still seemed suspicious of the DEA informant, asking him if he was an undercover operative. The informant said he was not and told Fahie: “Well, first of all, you’re not touching anything,” a reference to the planned shipments of cocaine.
According to the affidavit, Fahie replied: “I will touch one thing, the money.”
The DEA in Washington, D.C., issued a statement condemning the BVI officials’ alleged wrongdoing while highlighting the agency’s “resolve to hold corrupt members of government responsible for using their positions of power to provide a safe haven for drug traffickers and money launderers in exchange for their own financial and political gain.”
In response to the arrests of the premier and the others, BVI Gov. John Rankin issued a statement saying the U.S. government informed United Kingdom officials of the drug-trafficking case in Miami. He called it “shocking news.”
“As this is a live investigation I have no further information on the arrest nor can I comment any further on it,” said Rankin, who was appointed BVI’s governor by the United Kingdom.
Rankin also noted that the narco-trafficking arrests were unrelated to a current U.K. corruption investigation of Fahie’s government.
Corruption in the small islands of the Caribbean, which became a major drug transshipment point for U.S.-bound cocaine shipments in the 1980s, has always been a concern for the U.S. government. In recent years, U.S. officials have been helping the U.K. government in its investigation of money laundering allegations in the self-governed, dependent British territories in the Caribbean.
In 1985 the then-chief minister of the Turks and Caicos, Norman Saunders, became the first head of state charged with violating U.S. drug laws after he was arrested by DEA agents and accused of accepting $30,000 from undercover agents to ensure safe passage of Colombian cocaine through his island chain by permitting flights to refuel.
He was arrested along with his development minister, Stafford Missick. Saunders was convicted of conspiracy to violate travel laws and with traveling to promote an illegal business, but he was acquitted on charges that he offered to bribe undercover drug agents and of conspiracy to import cocaine and marijuana into the United States. He was sentenced to eight years in prison and fined $50,000.
(Miami Herald Caribbean correspondent Jacqueline Charles contributed to this story.)
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