Court takes drug assets

In a rare case for the Cayman Islands, police have gotten the courts to restrain certain overseas assets of three convicted drug offenders.

The three suspects, Americans Thomas Vincent Watson, Anthony Wayne Watson and Cindy Jo Hair, were sentenced 6 July to lengthy prison terms.

The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service has released photographs that show two of the defendants holding what were identified as bags of cocaine. Another photograph showed some ganja plants on a table with a sticker reading: ‘I’d rather go to Hell than to work.’

In addition to 15-year sentences for the Watsons and a 10-year sentence for Hair, the three will also be forced to pay back more than $60,000 to the court as part of a confiscation order.

‘They got a substantial prison sentence, but they’re also going to lose any of the assets they’ve benefited from crime,’ Police Commissioner Stuart Kernohan said.

Mr. Kernohan said assets restrained by the courts included bank accounts, motor vehicles, two jet skis, and a house bought in Florida.

Under the Misuse of Drugs Law (2000), the Caymanian courts can restrain assets, in other words keep convicted defendants from using them, until they’ve paid a pre-determined debt. If the debt is not paid at the end of a six month period, the prison sentence can be increased and interest added to the debt.

Eventually those assets can be seized if the defendants don’t pay.

Commissioner Kernohan said taking tangible assets of the drug trade away from convicted offenders is an important step in discouraging crime in the Cayman Islands.

‘People shouldn’t be benefiting from the crimes they commit,’ Mr. Kernohan said. ‘With this latest case, we’ve proven you cannot profit from crime when you’re dealing drugs in the Cayman Islands.’

The commissioner said there are other similar cases involving asset restraint pending in the courts. He said investigators have kept details quiet thus far to keep from alerting suspects to their intentions.

‘We knew this was going to send a signal and people would start hiding their assets,’ Mr. Kernohan said.

In this particular case, police said efforts to hide cash and other assets from the drug trade were not very sophisticated. Even so, Mr. Kernohan said procedures used to restrain assets are quite complex, require painstaking attention to detail, and involve the full cooperation of RCIPS Financial Crimes Unit and the Cayman Islands Attorney General’s office.

‘Some of these investigations can take months to track down the wealth,’ the commissioner said.

In another uncommon step, the police department agreed to release evidence photographs that depict two of the three defendants in the case, along with pictures of jet-skis police said were bought with drug money.

‘We just wanted people to see, for a change, instead of just reading about what we’ve done,’ said RCIPS spokesperson Deborah Denis.

‘For people to actually see the assets rather than just a written monetary value, we felt was a good thing to do,’ Mr. Kernohan said.

Investigators determined the trio benefited from crime to the tune of $84,000. However, it was agreed that the lower amount of $60,000 was more likely to be recoverable.

The court also noted that there may be a substantial amount of funds or assets involved in this case that police haven’t identified.

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