News Release
Date: April 12, 2012
Contact: Terri Wyatt, PIO
Number: 214-366-6900

Participants Major Marijuana, Money Laundering Operation Between North Texas and U.S. Virgin Islands Arrested
--One Defendant is a U.S. Virgin Islands Territorial Court Marshal--

April 12 (Fort Worth, TX) — Today 11 defendants charged in a federal felony criminal complaint, filed in the Northern District of Texas on April 5, 2012, were arrested in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands on charges that they conspired to possess with intent to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana.  Last week, six additional defendants, charged in separate complaints for their various roles in the conspiracy, were arrested in North Texas.  Today’s announcement was made by U.S. Attorney Sarah R. Saldaña, of the Northern District of Texas.

“These arrests culminate a more than two-year investigation into the shipping of large quantities of marijuana from Arlington, Texas, to St. Croix,” said U.S. Attorney Saldaña.  “The investigation is spearheaded by the Dallas and Fort Worth Offices of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Drug Enforcement Administration and Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation.  I commend not only these Postal Inspectors and Special Agents, but all of the Special Agents and Officers of the HIDTA Task Forces in St. Croix and St. Thomas, as well as the U.S. Virgin Islands Police Department, for their coordinated investigative efforts that made this operation a huge success.

The below-listed defendants were arrested in the U.S. Virgin Islands on a complaint charging each with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute100 kilograms or more of marijuana.  They will make their initial appearances today before U.S. Magistrate Judge George W. Cannon, in U.S. District Court in St. Croix.

  • Michell i Encarnacion
  • Lucien Williams, 47
  • Elizabeth Felix, 41
  • Sylvester Augustin, 29, a Territorial Court Marshal in the U.S. Virgin Islands
  • Jairzhino Marten, 35
  • Aisha Nayoki Williams, 24
  • Clarence Alfonso Williams, 31
  • Kerena Prentice, aka “Kerena Prentis,” 27
  • Tessa Lewis, 35
  • Vernon Frank Sutton, Jr., 56
  • Kareem Ambrose, 32

The below-listed defendants, all from North Texas, were arrested on Tuesday, April 3, 2012.  They have each made their initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Jeffrey L. Cureton in U.S. District Court and have been released on bond.

  • Neil Nick Rene, 35, of Duncanville
  • Sylvia Francisca Granville, 44
  • Carl Gayheart Schou, 47, Fort Worth
  • Eddie House, Jr., 47,
  • Tanisha Jernae Williams, 28, of Fort Worth
  • Laura Louise Ryan-Rene, 42, of Duncanville

Defendants Neil Rene, Granville and Schou have each been charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana.  Defendants House, Williams and Laura Ryan-Rene have each been charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering.

“The arrests announced today in St. Croix and those last week in the North Texas area were the culmination of a two-year criminal investigation into a marijuana trafficking ring,” said Randall C. Till, Postal Inspector in Charge, Fort Worth Division. “These arrests could not have been accomplished without the excellent inter-agency cooperation between members of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation and the U.S. Virgin Islands Police Department.  For more than 200 years, Postal Inspectors have safeguarded the U.S. Postal Service and its customers.  These arrests should serve as a warning that Postal Inspectors will not tolerate the nation’s mail system being misused to traffic narcotics.”

Governor John P. de Jongh, Jr. said, “We put tremendous trust and faith in those who swear to uphold the laws of the Virgin Islands.  The improprieties alleged to have been perpetrated by a member of the law enforcement community are not acceptable to our community and are not acceptable to me.  I acknowledge the fine work of our police officers and our federal partners whose diligence and determination uncovered this pattern of alleged wrongdoing by several persons in our community.”

According to one or more of the complaints filed, defendant Neil Nick Rene was the primary participant of a drug trafficking organization (DTO) that sent numerous parcels containing large quantities of marijuana from Arlington to the towns of Frederiksted and Christiansted, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.  Since at least November 2009, persons involved in the DTO have sent more than 120 Express Mail parcels from at least five different post office stations in Arlington to at least six different addresses in St. Croix.  The average weight per parcel was approximately 12 pounds, for a total known weight in excess of 500 kilograms of marijuana.

Since November 2009, at least 110 known or suspect Express Mail parcels containing suspected proceeds, most often in the form of money orders, were sent from the Virgin Islands by participants of the DTO.  A majority of the purchases were from $1500 to $2900 per transaction; U.S. Postal Service standards require that identification be presented when a total value of $3000 or more of postal money orders are purchased. 

U.S. Postal Inspectors and Special Agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration have been working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents to intercept and examine incoming proceeds parcels sent by participants of the DTO in the Virgin Islands to the US.  While the Virgin Islands are listed as a U.S. territory, incoming mail parcels originating from the Virgin Islands are considered to be out of the continental U.S. and are thus treated as international parcels that fall under the purview of Custom’s and Border Protection’s inspection authority.

Since April 2010, 78 inbound parcels that originated in the Virgin Islands were found to contain the suspected proceeds sent by participants of the DTO for payment.  Each parcel was addressed to one of the five known addresses in Fort Worth, two known addresses in Dallas, one address in Arlington, or to an address in Duncanville, Texas. Seventy-five of the parcels contained what appeared to be structured postal money orders.  The total amount of proceeds observed and documented from April 27, 2010, to the present is $385,055. 

Not all participants of the DTO were involved in the mailing of controlled substances, but most were involved in sending or receiving proceeds derived from the drug shipments.                     

A federal criminal complaint is a written statement of the essential facts of the offenses charged, and must be made under oath before a magistrate judge.  A defendant is entitled to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.  The maximum statutory penalty, however, for each of the drug offenses is not less than five or more than 40 years in prison.  The maximum statutory sentence for conspiracy to commit money laundering is 20 years in prison.  All carry substantial fines.  The U.S. Attorney’s office has 30 days to present the matters to a grand jury for indictment.

The matters will be prosecuted in the Fort Worth Division of the Northern District of Texas by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joshua T. Burgess and John de la Garza.