East End ganja case concludes

The last and youngest of five men who pleaded guilty to importing ganja last November was sentenced on 25 August.

Thomas Owen Roberts Bush, 20, received a term of 18 months, of which 6 months was suspended.

Magistrate Grace Donalds passed the sentence after hearing a plea on his behalf from football coach Louis Chung.

The four other men were sentenced in April. William Miguel Bush – no relation to Thomas – received two years. Jamaican nationals Werner Hamilton, Oneil Palache and Anthony Williams each received 18 months.

Attorney John Furniss had asked for an adjournment to get more information that could assist the court in determining Thomas’ sentence.

In April, Crown Counsel Elisabeth Lees told the court that on 26 November 2007 members of the Marine Unit received information about a canoe off East End. They launched their vessel and as they approached the vicinity of Morritt’s Tortuga Club they saw the canoe and a chase began.

The marine officers illuminated the canoe and the helicopter came and also illuminated it. Four or five men were seen throwing packages overboard.

Buckets and packages were recovered. Their contents were tested and shown to be 134.875 pounds of ganja.

Hamilton told officers he was in charge of the boat. He said he was aware the cargo was ganja, but he didn’t know the weight.

Thomas Bush said he knew the ganja was there and thought it was about 120 pounds. He became involved because he could make money.

Ms Lees said the wholesale price for ganja was $800 for one pound. If sold in individual wraps, the price was $10 per gram. The value of the ganja, therefore, was $107,900 if sold by the pound, but $614,700 if sold by the gram.

Attorney Nicholas Dixey spoke on behalf of the three Jamaicans, whom he described as ‘simple men… not at the top of the tree in the drug trade.’

He said Hamilton, 29, was a mechanic; Palache, 21, worked in construction; Williams, 47, was a fisherman.

‘They are the hired help… at the bottom of the scale of culpability. The amount of money they were going to make doesn’t top $1,000. Others were potentially making a fortune and assuming none of the risk,’ Mr. Dixey said.

When the helicopter was shining its light on them, it would be clear the game was up, so their guilty pleas could mitigate only a little, the attorney continued. But the men deserved credit for being candid.

William Bush, 38, spoke for himself. He said only 35 pounds of the ganja was for him; he did not know who else had what quantities.

In passing the sentences, Magistrate Grace Donalds said she was taking into account the men’s pleas and surrounding circumstances. She ordered the deportation of the Jamaicans after they serve their sentences. They and William Bush had been in custody since the incident and received credit for that time.

The magistrate agreed to the Crown’s application for the forfeiture of the canoe Ava. However, she did not agree to a request for $1,275 to cover the cost of testing the ganja.

Before sentencing Thomas Bush, the magistrate heard from football coach Louis Chung, whose opinion was that Thomas could have had a promising career as a professional footballer. ‘He should have gone to Liverpool with us,’ he told the court.

Mr. Chung said he had observed Thomas’ academic achievements and arrangements had been made for him to go to prep school overseas.

Then something happened, the coach said.

‘His father came out of prison and told him all I am putting in his head is a waste of time… His father wanted him to sell coconuts. I went to see the father and said he was taking an opportunity from the child. All of a sudden he was taken from his mother’s house and the rest is history.’

Mr. Chung said he got a call from Thomas about two months before coming to court. Thomas told him he was in lock-up. Since his release, he had been coming to the playfield and telling the younger boys what not to do.

‘He is still young; he has so much ability. I would take him under my wing if the court would give him to me because I would like him to get another chance,’ the coach concluded.

Mr. Furniss said Thomas has been seeing a probation officer since his renewed contact with Coach Chung. He never tried to hide the extent of his involvement. He now seemed to appreciate the reality of the situation. ‘If he has to go to prison I ask it not be for too long.’

The magistrate said she had listened to all that was said on Thomas’ behalf. She considered it would be wrong in principle to depart from guidelines that appear to mandate immediate imprisonment for importation of drugs.

Along with the 18 months, six months of which was suspended, she imposed a further one month sentence for an unrelated assault charge and a further one week for failing to surrender for a court date. Time served will count toward his total sentence.

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