District Court Judge Ruth Miller ruled Thursday that four of the five drug suspects who initially appeared at a detention hearing Wednesday would be denied bail pending the outcome of their cases.
Mason Ferguson Sr., Mason Ferguson Jr., Jerome Potter and Earl Skelton will all be held in the custody of the Department of Corrections until trial, while Terence Martin was released to home confinement.
Ferguson Sr., Ferguson Jr., Potter, Martin and Skelton were among seven people arrested May 6 after an early morning sting operation on St. John in which FBI agents arranged a fake drug drop in the waters south of the island.
The other two suspects in the case, Robert Shinners and Marisol Ferguson, were both granted bail in a separate hearing Tuesday morning.
The six men and one woman, who face a total of 47 counts of conspiracy and drug trafficking, are accused of working together to procure and sell crack cocaine, powder cocaine and marijuana on St. John.
At the detention hearing Wednesday, details emerged about an 11-month-long undercover operation conducted by the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration prior to the May 6 bust. According to authorities, the suspects were seen or heard engaging in at least 16 specific drug-related transactions between June 18, 2010 and April 26, 2011. The two agencies used visual surveillance, confidential informants and telephone wiretaps to obtain evidence against the suspects.
After the bust, which involved 300 kilograms of fake cocaine, searches of Ferguson’s and Potter’s homes on St. John turned up drugs, guns and ammunition.
Miller cited this and other evidence in her determination to deny bail for the four men. She said counterarguments mounted by their respective defense attorneys did not overcome the presumption that they were a potential danger to the community or may attempt to flee.
Gabriel Villegas, attorney to Ferguson Sr., who is alleged to have been the primary narcotics dealer of the group, argued Wednesday that his client had no incentive to flee because he supposedly has a job waiting for him at Concordia Eco Resort and he needs to take care of his wife, Marisol, who suffers from muscular disease.
Ferguson’s sister, Brenda Sonson of Chocolate Hole, offered to act as a third-party custodian to her brother and to put her $850,000 property up as collateral.
However, Miller said Thursday that she doubted Ferguson’s prospects for legitimate employment and cited the amount of drugs and guns found in his house during the May 6 search. On that day agents found a one-kilogram brick of cocaine, 19 half-ounce bags of cocaine in the bathtub, 100 jewel-size bags of marijuana in Ferguson Jr.’s backpack, and two handguns under Ferguson Jr.’s bed.
Miller said she struggled more with the decision to detain 18-year-old Ferguson Jr., who is accused of being a street-level dealer of small amounts of drugs. Ferguson Jr.’s great-aunt Monica Smith, who described her great-nephew as a respectful, conscientious boy, said he could live with her and she would act as his custodian. She also offered her $800,000 property as collateral while under questioning from defense attorney Judith Bourne.
Miller said that the amount of drugs found in the boy’s backpack and the two guns found under his bed, combined with his lack of employment, convinced her that detention was the appropriate measure.
In Potter’s case, Miller cited the 9mm clip found in a search of his house and his frequent trips back and forth to the British Virgin Islands as her reason for deciding to detain him. She said she feared Miller was a flight risk or may revert to dealing drugs.
Potter is suspected of being the leader of the operation and the primary conduit of drugs from the British Virgin Islands. On Wednesday, FBI agent Michael Day also described surveillance evidence of Potter transporting illegal aliens on his boat from the British Virgin Islands to St. John.
Potter attorney David Cattie argued Wednesday that his client should not be detained because he has no criminal record and the evidence against him was thin. He also noted that Potter has three children with his girlfriend, whom he has no intention of abandoning.
Potter’s mother, Aura Alexander, also offered her $400,000 home as collateral, and a friend, Mike Marsh, offered him work three days a week at Tropic Service & Supply.
Skelton, a B.V.I. resident, is suspected of being Potter’s and Ferguson’s primary source of drugs. Miller denied him bail based on his lack of ties in the territory, and due to his alleged involvement in the transport of aliens on Potter’s boat.
Martin, who lives on St. Thomas, was the only suspect to be granted bail. He is suspected of being a fill-in supplier who provided drugs to Ferguson Sr. when Potter was not available. Martin is the suspect facing the fewest charges: one count of drug conspiracy and one count of using a communication facility to facilitate a drug crime.
Miller said she felt confident that Martin’s live-in girlfriend, Jeanette Romney, would be a capable third-party custodian and said he could continue his employment. Romney and Martin have five children between them, all of whom live at home with them.
Miller freed him on $15,000 bond and required him to meet a long list of conditions, which include surrendering his passport, reporting to the probation office at least three times a week, getting regular drug tests, avoiding contact with witnesses and co-defendants, only leaving the house for court-mandated appointments, and refraining from using a cell phone except during work hours.
A preliminary hearing related to this case is scheduled for May 25 in District Court on St. Thomas.