A possible case of identity theft could ultimately lead to a new trial for convicted officers Enid Edwards, Francis Brooks and Bill John-Baptiste; but in the meantime, it has added at least a monthlong delay in their sentencing, which was scheduled for early Wednesday morning.
Veteran V.I. Police officers Edwards and Brooks were convicted in January of 22 counts of racketeering, drug trafficking, bribery, conspiracy, extortion, kidnapping and conflict of interest, while V.I. Port Authority officer John-Baptiste was found guilty of a single charge of kidnapping.
The original 33-count indictment against Edwards and Brooks was handed down in June 2010 and also included charges of assault, battery and illegal narcotics distribution. Four separate incidents of drug trafficking, extortion and fraud tacked on in September 2010 added 21 counts to the already-loaded docket — several of which were dismissed by District Court Judge Curtis Gomez during the officers’ subsequent trial in a few months ago.
Drug trafficking conspiracy was part of the charges that covered counts 48 to 52, in which Brooks and Edwards were said to have detained a group of individuals on the street and released them after taking their money and drugs.
Called to the stand during trial were Kelvin Moses and a man who identified himself as Troy Willocks, both convicted drug dealers who detailed their interactions with the two officers.
While Moses said Edwards and Brooks forced him to pay $800 for three stacks of marijuana that he said were valued at $1,600 a pound, Willocks said he saw Brooks, during a shakedown in Savan, pocket some pot from a dealer and drive off without arresting anyone in his group.
But in a bizarre twist Wednesday, Gomez said information had surfaced about Willocks that had raised a red flag — in particular, that there was another individual with the same name and birth date currently being tried in V.I. Superior Court, and at this point, one of them is claiming that the other is also falsely using his social security number.
Gomez said the court was notified about the situation by an attorney who is representing both men. The individual used as a witness in the officers’ case was supposed to be sentenced last week in District Court, but was not after his attorney said he suspected his client was not the "real" Troy Willocks, Gomez explained.
The judge said that the spelling of the name — whether it’s Willock or Willocks — is also up in the air, since it’s been written both ways throughout various documents in both court cases.
Saying the same name and birth date could be a "remarkable coincidence," Gomez added that he didn’t think two people could be issued the same social security number.
Defense attorneys pounced on the opportunity to request a new trial for their clients, who they said could be going to jail because of verdict possibly tainted by fraud, or even perjury.
"The jury has a right to know if he’s a credible witness," Edwards’ defense attorney Jay Shreenath said during Wednesday’s hearing. Shreenath added that at some point, the government suspected foul play but didn’t do anything about it, and let Willocks’ testimony be entered into the record.
Brooks’ defense attorney George Hodge added that while the charges related to Willocks testified about were dismissed during trial, his statements still could have led to the officers’ conviction on racketeering charges under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).
While the possible conflict was acknowledged by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kim Lindquist, the prosecution countered that there was no need to postpone the officers’ sentencing, since the three counts that would have involved Willocks were dismissed during trial and, therefore, no emphasis was placed on his testimony during closing arguments.
Meanwhile, the government was told before the trial that there were two Troy Willocks’, but heard from their attorney that the only real issue between the two cases was that his clients’ criminal histories kept getting mixed up by the courts. Even reports on the National Crime Information Center confused the two men, and included an alias in the system of "Troy Willocks," Lindquist said.
Lindquist added that whatever information was relevant to the issue was disclosed to the defense before opening arguments.
"This is not an identity issue," he said. "The government is in possession of nothing, and nothing suggests that our witness is not Troy Willock."
That the two men have the same social security number is "new to me," Lindquist added later, saying that the defense still had every opportunity during trial to "vigorously" cross examine the witness during trial about his identity.
Gomez ultimately gave the attorneys until 3 p.m. June 7 to submit briefs on whether an inquiry into the issue is needed — and to argue out some of the other questions raised during the hearing — but said he thought, at the very least, the attorneys could share whatever information they had among them.
"At the very least, the court needs to look into this and at the very least, determine if someone gave false testimony in this court, and if so, if it had some impact on the verdict in this case," he said. While a jury would ultimately have to settle any question of perjury, the focus on both sides should be the social security number, and whether the two men actually share one.
Gomez said to proceed with sentencing the officers at this point could be considered acting "in haste," and could invite an inquiry from a reviewing court.