The first of six defendants in a firearms smuggling case pleaded guilty this week in United States District Court to charges of conspiring to export firearms from Florida to Grand Cayman.
Tito Bonilla, who was arrested in the US on 11 August, faces up to five years in federal prison, a $250,000 fine and up to a further three years of supervised release when he’s sentenced on 28 December.
In exchange for the plea, federal prosecutors agreed to drop the other two charges included in the indictment against Bonilla, who was the third person to be arrested in the US since last year in connection with the gun smuggling activities.
Bonilla is charged in the same US court indictment as Caymanians Mikkyle Brandon Leslie and Alexander Michael Henry (identified earlier by the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service as Michael Alexander Henry). Three other unnamed individuals have also been charged in the case, according to records examined by the Caymanian Compass. About a dozen people, most of them Caymanians, are named in court records as having played some part in a gun-running operation between south Florida and Grand Cayman that occurred during 2008 and 2009.
Not all of those individuals have been charged in US federal court. At least two, Michael Ebanks and Robert Terry, have been charged and sentenced for various gun related crimes in the Cayman Islands; crimes that have some connection to the Florida gun shipping case.
Federal court records requesting pre-trial detention of Bonilla give some insight into the specific allegations against him. The names of individuals who have not already been charged locally or in the US in connection with the case are being left out by the Compass for legal reasons.
The pre-trial detention request states: “On or about September 11, 2008, defendant Mikkyle Brandon Leslie, using the name Mikkyle Ebanks and [named individual No. 1] delivered a refrigerator to Tropical Shipping, Thompson Line, a division of Tropical Shipping and Construction Co. Ltd., Thompson Shipping Co. Ltd. in Miami, Florida to be sent to [named individual No. 2] in Grand Cayman. The sign-in sheet at Thompson Shipping shows that Mikkyle Ebanks signed for the out-going shipment.
“On or about September 29, 2008, the refrigerator, which was sent by Mikkyle Brandon Leslie and [named individual No. 1] to [named individual No. 2] arrived in Grand Cayman and was picked up by [named individual No. 2], defendant Robert Terry and defendant Tito Bonilla. Documents from the Collector of Customs, Grand Cayman, show that [named individual No. 2] received the refrigerator, which had been purchased by defendant Mikkyle Brandon Leslie … and that the refrigerator was loaded into a truck by defendant Robert Terry. These records also show that the licence plate on the truck was registered to defendant Tito Bonilla’s [relative].
“Information provided by a cooperating witness establishes that defendant Alexander Michael Henry had told [the witness] about how Henry had been involved in the shipment of a refrigerator containing guns from the United States to Grand Cayman in September 2008. Henry informed [the witness] that he [Henry] was getting paid $2,500 for assisting in getting the shipment through Cayman Customs. The witness stated that the refrigerator was shipped through Thompson/Hyde Shipping and was picked up at the Cayman port by defendant Tito Bonilla. According to [the witness] defendant Robert Terry, who is defendant Tito Bonilla’s cousin, went to defendant Tito Bonilla and stated that he needed to clear a refrigerator at the port.
“Defendant Robert Terry and defendant Tito Bonilla helped [named individual No. 2] clear the refrigerator at the port and they took it [to] defendant Tito Bonilla’s house.”
According to federal court records, the unnamed witness was then told to come over to Bonilla’s house where the guns were taken from the bottom part of the refrigerator.
“The [witness] stated that defendant Robert Terry was the one who unscrewed the panels and took the guns out of the refrigerator … The [witness] stated that [the witness] saw a Mak-90, an AK-type rifle, a 9×19 rifle which holds 10 shots and an AR-15 high-power rifle. The [witness] stated that defendant Tito Bonilla was going to keep a firearm as part of the deal.”