Feds investigate US-Cayman firearms smuggling ring

United States federal law enforcement authorities are investigating a firearms smuggling operation between south Florida and Grand Cayman that’s been ongoing since at least 2008, according to US District Court records obtained by the Caymanian Compass.  

The investigation, a branch of which led to the 2009 arrest, conviction and incarceration of four local men in US federal prison, caught up with a fifth suspect, Mikkyle Brandon Leslie – known in Cayman as Brandon Leslie Ebanks – when US Marshals arrested him at Miami International Airport on Tuesday.  

Leslie, also known by the nickname ‘Kalishnikov’ according to a criminal complaint filed against him by the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on Wednesday, is accused of breaching two sections of the United States criminal code by allegedly transporting firearms through a carrier without notice and alleged illegal exportation of firearms. The accusations against the 25-year-old Caymanian are made in a probable cause affidavit attached to the criminal complaint filed by US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent Jennifer DeVito. He has not been formally indicted.  

Federal court records indicate Leslie is set for a detention hearing in Fort Lauderdale, Florida today.  

According to the probable cause affidavit filed in the US District Court, Southern District of Florida: “Mikkyle Leslie, aka Brandon Ebanks, aka Brandon Leslie, aka Kalishnikov, has been identified as the purchaser of at least nine firearms in the Broward and Miami-Dade County area and was the purchaser of a refrigerator shipped from Port Everglades, Broward County Florida and seized in Grand Cayman on 13 November, 2008. 

“At the time of the seizure of the refrigerator, the refrigerator was found to contain approximately five semi-automatic pistols, one of which had an obliterated serial number, approximately 800 rounds of ammunition in various calibres and firearm magazines.”  

The infamous ‘guns-in-fridge’ court case here in the Cayman Islands led to the conviction of Michael Timothy Ebanks on importation of firearms charges. Ebanks is serving a five-year prison sentence.  

The criminal complaint filed Wednesday in US District Court reveals ATF agents believe a number of other individuals were involved in the 2008 firearms import-export incident. The affidavit does not amount to criminal charges against those named individuals; it was filed with the court to establish probable cause to arrest Brandon Leslie Ebanks on Tuesday.  

However, statements made in the document indicate the named individuals – several of whom are Caymanians – “were identified as participants in the firearms smuggling activities”.  

For legal reasons, not all of the individuals named in the probable cause affidavit have been identified in this article. However, the document is a matter of public record and can be reviewed by anyone.  

For clarity, the individuals the newspaper is not identifying will be referred to as ‘named female No. 1’, ‘named male No. 1’ and so on. About a dozen people were identified in the probable cause affidavit as participants in the gun smuggling.  

The affidavit continues: “[An individual whose name is being withheld by the Caymanian Compass] advised that he had met with individuals in Miami and Carol City, Florida, including ‘named male No. 3’, ‘named male No. 4’, Brittanio Walton, and Brandon Ebanks aka Mikkyle Leslie. These individuals were involved in purchasing appliances and smuggling firearms from the United States to Grand Cayman.”  

“’Named female No. 1’, ‘named female No. 2’ and Michael Ebanks attempted to pick up this refrigerator at Cayman Customs prior to its seizure,” the affidavit read. “The consignee of the refrigerator was ‘named female No. 1’. [The individual who spoke with investigators] stated that Robert Terry arranged for the use of ‘named female No. 1’ as the consignee because her family name was respected on the Island and they would be less likely to suspect her of anything. “’Named male No. 1’ drove Michael Ebanks to the Cayman port to the pick up the refrigerator. ‘Named female No. 2’ and ‘named male No. 2’ attempted to pick up the refrigerator before Michael Ebanks was arrested, but could not pick it up because ‘named female No. 2’ did not have proper identification at the time.” The refrigerator used to ship the guns in November 2008 was purchased in October 2008 in Miami, according to receipts obtained by federal investigators. The purchase, according to those records, was made by a ‘Jason Jenkins’.  

“Surveillance video from Thompson Shipping on November 4, 2008 shows that Mikkyle [Brandon] Leslie … was present [at] Thompson Shipping [in Florida] during the shipment of the refrigerator. The surveillance video also shows Mikkyle Leslie … completing the shipping ticket which was filled out in the name of Jason Jenkins and signing the form in the name of Jason Jenkins,” the criminal complaint read. CCTV video from the ‘Brandsmart USA’ store shows Leslie was at the store on 16 October, 2008 when the refrigerator used to ship the five guns to Grand Cayman was purchased, according to federal court records.  

“The Brandsmart surveillance video shows Michael Timothy Ebanks, Mikkyle Leslie … and two other males involved in the purchase of the refrigerator,” the criminal complaint continues. “Surveillance video shows that the refrigerator was loaded into a red pickup truck owned by Anthony Mitchell Brown [the individual identified earlier in the court records is Mitchell Anthony Brown – but officials confirmed it is the same person].” According to the probable cause affidavit, DNA testing done on firearms recovered from the refrigerator once it was seized on Grand Cayman “could not eliminate” Leslie as a contributor to the DNA sample.  

 

Second case 

US ATF investigators’ statements in the criminal complaint filed Wednesday were corroborated by another individual who was arrested in 2009 in a separate attempt to smuggle firearms from south Florida to Grand Cayman.  

That individual gave statements detailing the purchase at the Miami ‘Brandsmart USA’ store of the refrigerator used to ship the guns in November 2008 and indicated the fridge was “used to conceal firearms that were shipped to Grand Cayman”. The 2009 case, which was previously reported by the Caymanian Compass, led to federal prison sentences for three men on charges related to gun smuggling and a fourth man on weapons’ possession charges.  

According to federal court records, David Gilbert Lyons, Mitchell Anthony Brown, and Brittanio Jermie Walton each were initially charged with five counts in an indictment alleging they conspired to ship firearms, attempted to export firearms, delivered firearms to a common carrier without notice, attempted to ship firearms with obliterated serial numbers, and possessed firearms with serial numbers obliterated. Federal court records indicated Lyons travelled from Grand Cayman to Miami on 2 April, 2009 to meet up with Walton and Brown. 

On 10 April, the charge alleges the three drove to Pennsylvania to obtain firearms and returned to Miami about four days later. Attempting to cover up what they were shipping, the federal court indictment alleges the three men went to a Home Depot store in Hialeah, Florida to buy light fixtures, ceiling fans, a hedge trimmer, and a window air conditioning unit. 

Two days later, court records charge that seven boxes containing the items bought at Home Depot were delivered to a freight forwarder in Port Everglades, Broward County, Florida, where the weapons were discovered.  

Lyons received a 57-month prison sentence; Brown received a 37-month prison sentence; and Walton received a 51-month prison sentence following guilty pleas to certain charges.  

Lyons and Brown both pleaded guilty to conspiring to deliver firearms to a common carrier without notice and to smuggle firearms from the US. Both also pleaded guilty to an additional charge of attempting to smuggle firearms from the US. Walton pleaded guilty to conspiring to deliver firearms to a common carrier, and to attempting to smuggle firearms from the US. Walton also pleaded to previous charges from 2006 and 2008 of knowingly making false statements in an immigration application.  

In a separate indictment, Marvin Matthew Watson was charged with possessing a firearm in the US ‘which had been transported in interstate or foreign commerce’ in violation of US law. Watson pleaded guilty in the case in late 2009.  

The ATF agent’s probable cause affidavit filed in connection with the ‘guns-in-fridge’ case from November 2008 alleges both Mitchell Anthony Brown and Brittanio Walton were linked to that incident, as well as the 2009 firearms export investigation. As far as the Compass is aware, neither man was charged over the roles ATF agents said they played in the November 2008 guns shipment to Grand Cayman.  

 

Shots fired at judge’s house 

The affidavit filed with the criminal complaint made in US District Court Wednesday also makes reference to a third firearms investigation in Grand Cayman. The document states on 1 February of this year, Cayman Islands police seized a 9mm Glock pistol from Robert Terry, who was later charged in connection with the case.  

According to local court records, Robert Lewis Terry was charged in the 1 February incident, which occurred outside the Caribbean Club resort, with aggravated criminal trespass and possession of an unlicensed firearm. The weapon was found to have an obliterated serial number, according to the ATF. However, a forensic restoration of that serial number was able to retrieve five of the six characters emblazoned on the gun.  

ATF investigators said they traced the pistol through purchase records and found the Glock model 19, 9mm semi-automatic handgun had been purchased on 21 December, 2008 at Big Al’s Gun and Pawn in Pembroke Pines, Florida. The first five digits of the weapon recovered from Terry on 1 February matched the first five digits of the weapon sold on that date by Big Al’s, ATF investigators said. The purchaser of the gun was identified in US court records as Mikkyle Brandon Leslie. 

“The [Glock model 19, 9mm semi-automatic handgun] was later connected to a shooting at the home of a chief magistrate judge in the Cayman Islands through firearm casings recovered at the scene of the shooting,” the ATF’s criminal complaint read.  

Shots were fired at the home of former Cayman Islands Chief Magistrate Margaret Ramsay-Hale in August 2009, according to the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service. No one was hurt in the shooting, which occurred around 1am and it was never made clear from police reports if the judge herself or someone else believed to be in the house was the intended target of the gunfire. Ms Ramsay-Hale left the Cayman Islands earlier this year to take a promotion to the Grand Court bench in the Turks and Caicos Islands. No arrests have been reported by local police in connection with the shooting outside the judge’s home. Terry was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment Friday in the unlicensed firearm case. 

1 COMMENT

  1. Anyone who believes that the gun and drug smuggling that’s been going on for years in Cayman is not being facilitated by corrupt elements within both the RCIPS and HM Customs in Cayman is either totally ignorant as to how Cayman’s streets run or are in denial.

    Some of us more street-wise Caymanians have always known this; if one is not involved with criminal activity in Cayman then one has no reason to draw the attention of either criminals or law-enforcement personnel, either of which can be detrimental to one’s health or freedom, in Cayman.

    If the RCIPS were a reasonably clean organization, one would have to wonder how the FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and US Marshalls Dept. could conduct such a thorough investigation into gun smuggling in Cayman, compile such detailed evidence on Caymanians involved and the RCIPS cannot figure out what is going on beneath their very noses.

    Is it any wonder that cases are being thrown out of court for certain individuals then ?

    It also boggles the mind; a firearm was recovered from a now convicted person with its serial number filed off, submitted to the ATF in the USA for forensic testing and once having been identified as the same gun used in shooting up a magistrates house, the criminal convicted for possession of this same firearm was not charged with the shooting up of the magistrates house after being found in posseion of the same firearm used ?

    Corruption in high places will be the undoing of the Cayman Islands yet.

  2. Does this report name and shame the RCIP and the Judiciary or WHAT?
    Firey, well said again.
    Judgment has begun and its not in the House of The Lord this time………
    Something tells me that the powers that be have somehow now found themselves in a choke hold position…????????????

  3. Absolutely right Firery and it makes you wonder exactly what the recently-departed gang from Merseyside did during their all-expenses-paid vacation – sorry, that should have read hard-working investigations but my fingers slipped.

    In fact the only thing that really surprises in this story is that we haven’t had to put up with a re-run of the CoP’s tirade blaming the 2nd Amendment of the US Constitution for gun crime in the Caribbean.

  4. In truth, we have to thank Caycompass for this detailed piece of investigative journalism.

    These records come from the US court system itself so they are unquestionable as far as the factual accuracy of the investigation being conducted by the three most important law enforcement agencies in the entire US criminal justice system; this is a MAJOR federal investigation going on here and elements in Cayman must not think that it is in any way over, once the USA has Mikkyle Brandon Leslie aka Brandon Leslie Ebanks aka Kalashnikov or however many aliases he goes by, in their custody.

    Not many people outside of the USA know much about the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (the ATF)if they are not ivolved in high level smuggling of these commodities…not even the DEA holds the power and authority of the ATF is the USA; if you are being investigated by the FBI and ATF, it means you have attracted the atttention of some people very, very high up in the US Government.

    John, you have probably touched on a key issue here; David Baines blaming the USA for his own incompetence and the corruption within the RCIPS of which he is head, for guns smuggling in Cayman, which it is his job to control has probably attracted the attention of these agencies as well.

    The real question that jumps out here is this; in this ‘guns hidden in the refridgerator’ case in Cayman, only one person was ever charged and convicted but the US investigation clearly shows that there were more people involved, and from highly respected backgrounds…this fridge was not cleared only because the person responsible for collecting it did not have proper ID on the day; obviously that person did not expect to be scrutinised so closely when collecting this gun-loaded fridge so who in the Customs is in on this gun-smuggling ring ?

    How did any investigation conducted in this case by the RCIPS not turn up at least some of the information that the USA has done;if the RCIPS had requested help from the USA to look further into this matter, these facts would have been ascertained while they had Brandon Leslie in jail on a murder charge.

    He was allowed to walk free out of the Cayman Islands with not even a ‘fare thee well’ and straight into the waiting arms of the US Marshalls.

    Obviously the CoP in Cayman, Mr.Baines opened his mouth and put his foot in it and now looks like a total embarrassment to Cayman in the eyes of the US federal agencies who do a very good job of controlling illegal firearms smuggling out of the USA and across international borders.

    They not only had to do their own job of catching these Caymanian gun runners in the USA red-handed, they’ve also had to do a major portion of the investigative work that should have been done by the RCIPS.

    These facts tell their own tale but with Brandon Leslie in jail under the US Marshall’s authority in Florida, some people will not be sleeping well in Cayman for some time to come.

  5. Again Firery those are some great comments and spot on.

    This article is investigative journalism at it’s best.

    What I want to know is what Larry Covington, the FCO’s Law Enforcement Advisor in this region, was doing during all of this. It rather looks like he was shut out of the investigation.

    It will also be interesting to see how Caymanians travelling to or living in the USA and shipments from the USA to the islands are treated in the coming months because there’s alway a knock on effect from events like this.

  6. John

    Having lved in the USA for most of the 90s, I can assure you that the image of the Cayman Islands has been sorely damaged, at least.

    Not only because of the gun smuggling but as much or even more by David Baines comments at this international convention this past summer.

    Maybe Mr. Baines has not lived on the other side of the Atlantic long enough ot have had enough dealings with US law enforcement agencies to understand how they operate but if knowledge is lacking, go seek it before opening your mouth…you know the old saying about keeping ones mouth shut…and the fool bit, eh.

    When David Baines uttered these statements its obvious that he was not aware that there was a major investigation ongoing in Caymanians involved in gun smuggling, from the very country for which he was holding responsible for guns coming into Cayman while doing very little to intercept this smuggling ring from Cayman’s side.

    Its also obvious that the US law enforcement agencies have been monitoring the murder case in which the main player in this smuggling ring was a suspect and that they were aware of when he boarded a plane for the USA.

    They would also be aware that the case of smuggling caught in Cayman had not been fully investigated because Brandon Leslie was in no way tied or implicated in that case but their evidence shows him being at the heart of this smuggling ring which includes firearms that had already gotten through and been used in crimes on the island.

    Now you tell me; why did the USA’s agencies not share this information with Cayman ?

    And waited to publicly and embarrassingly arrest the Caymanian citizen involved ?

    Might it not have to do with certain statements made by a certain Mr. Baines ?

  7. This is an outstanding piece of investigate journalism. The residents of the Cayman Islands are indeed fortunate to have amongst them professionals that are prepared to expose themselves to danger and work long hours in difficult conditions for meagre pay and often no public thanks to enmsure that the community are informed about what is happening in their community. I will watch with ongoing interest what further names and details this investigation throws up.

  8. The Commissioner of the RCIPS made more speeches on the public circuit than any other Commissioner of Police in the past 30 years. He is good with words and he loves to address gatherings at places like Chamber of Commerce and other gatherings. Caymanians on a whole love to hear good speeches but good speeches don’t solve crimes. I am betting that he is very embarassed at the investigations by the ATF and other agencies in the USA. He will probably find some way of explaining it away. Remember the 15 illegal firearms circulating in the criminal elements in Cayman, statement? Look out FOR THE EXPLANATION coming to a paper or radio or tv near you. Don’t miss it.

  9. I am in the process of forwarding this link to this article and all comments on this subject to Mr Henry Billingham for him to witness just how much of an embarrassment this is for the RCIP comm Baines and the UK Ministr for these Overseas Territories since we are the BACKYARD OF THE UNITED STATES. I’m about to mow their lawn!

    I may print it all off and hand it to him at the coffee shop where he has tea regularly. Uh!

  10. Firery
    Well said!
    If knowledge is lacking, go seek it before opening your mouth…you know the old saying about keeping ones mouth shut…and the fool bit, eh.
    You hit the nail on the head.

  11. Fiery has basically said it all and I agree, especially with the fact that we have to get out of denial that our police and customs are not part of the problem. In my opinion, the next time we suggest it’s the fault of the Commissioner, we need to look at the entire force. The laws of probability alone would support hypothesis about the possible corruption and or lack of competence by the officers that have been there for years and clearly do not have to be concerned about doing their jobs effectively. It seems only have to show up, arrest the same non-aggressive offenders to meet their ‘quota’, assist with recruitment of their friends who probably know less than about law than they do and of course, the favourite, blame the Commissioner.

    Maybe the Comm needs to start ‘dismissing’ or forcing early retirement of the officers from most senior to start making appoint as well. But sadly for the community and again for the benefit and reward of an ineffective police force, they might now be able to avoid even less evidence collection, following proper procedure and have persons prove their innocence, instead of the police/prosecutors having to prove guilt, God help us all!

  12. John

    Isn’t it about time you stopped blaming Operation Tempura for everything that’s wrong with the RCIPS ?

    Someone not knowing more of the true facts, as I do, by reading your comments would believe that the RCIPS was a squeaky clean police force before Stuart Jack called in Operation Tempura; the facts show that this is far from the truth.

    A key part of the historical problem is that no Commissioner of Police, from the 1970s until now, has ever been able to do the job free of immense political pressure behind the scenes, from some very powerful and important force within Cayman’s society, both public and private.

    Within this vacuum created, senior officers and the ranks below them have taken advantage of the CoP’s lack of authority and ability to focus on the workings of his own organization exclusively; he has too many other people to keep happy.

    This is the real reason behind the corruption that exists within the RCIPS; it mainly lies witihn corrupt relationships that exists between higher to middle ranking police officers with questionable elements of the street and family culture in Cayman and…a lack of proper punishment when police misconduct has been discovered.

    To be totally honest about it, very little corruption exists within the rank-and-file police officers in Cayman; incompetence and lack of proper training and professionalism, yes but outright corruption ? No.

    One must look higher up the chain of command for those culprits and as one poster has commented, those are harder to get rid of.

    Baines has no excuse to offer anyone for this major scandal because this major case of the fridge smuggling and the seizing of the firearm used in the magistrate’s house shooting has fallen under his watch.

    One key revelation in this scandal will be the names of the parties invloved who have not been investigated or charged by the RCIPS with any offenses at all but who are named in the US Courts indictment evidence…those names will be revealed publicly in the USA when this indictment comes up before the US courts.

    That Brandon Leslie will be indicted and go to trial is a foregone conclusion.

    By that time, there will be quite a few people in Cayman seeking for cover; at that time their names will be plastered all over the world.

    The US justice system does not work like Cayman’s.