August trial set in Merren money laundering case

Cayman Islands businessman Bryce Gilroy Merren will face a jury trial in Puerto Rico before the end of the summer, unless he changes his plea of not guilty to charges against him.

A trial date of Aug. 15, 2014 was set for the case Friday by U.S. District Court Judge Carmen Consuelo Cerezo.

At his April 11 arraignment hearing in the U.S. court for the territory of Puerto Rico, Mr. Merren entered a not guilty plea to all three counts of conspiracy and attempt to possess and distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine, as well as money laundering.

U.S. Homeland Security investigators in March arrested Mr. Merren over what court records allege was an attempt to set up a money laundering operation to cover up planned drug smuggling activities.

A probable cause affidavit alleged that Mr. Merren met at different times with two undercover federal agents who posed as accomplices in setting up a drug smuggling operation in Puerto Rico. The records allege that Mr. Merren intended to use certain business interests in the Cayman Islands and the southern Caribbean island of Curacao to help launder the money.

If a plea deal is made, the court has ordered those negotiations to conclude prior to July 21 and make motions before the court to that effect by July 30.

As of Friday, no one else had been charged in relation to Mr. Merren’s case, although the name of one other associate has surfaced in publicly available court records in connection with the U.S. authorities’ undercover investigation. That man is an employee of Mr. Merren’s trucking company.

According to the homeland security agent’s probable cause affidavit, U.S. federal investigators in San Juan, Puerto Rico, received confidential information in July 2013 that Bryce Merren was “seeking to purchase approximately 3,000 kilograms of cocaine and establish a U.S. bank account in order to deposit drug proceeds and make an initial payment for the transportation of narcotics.”

The records did not state from where the alleged narcotics were to be transported.

“It was agreed that an initial 1,000 kilograms of cocaine would be transferred in the first smuggling venture and subsequently smuggling ventures of 2,000 and 3,000 kilograms of cocaine,” the probable cause affidavit states.

“[Mr.] Merren stated that he intended to deposit US$400,000 a day into the accounts through the use of commercial merchant machines,” court records state. “The accounts would be used as a guarantee for the narcotics smuggling venture and {Mr.] Merren agreed to coordinate for the narcotics sea transfer to take place on or about November 2013.”

“[Mr.] Merren explained to [an uncover agent] that he has legitimate businesses in the Cayman Islands and Curacao where he receives funds from customers from all over the world that conduct credit card transactions utilizing his businesses’ merchant machines in order to convert foreign currency into U.S. currency,” the probable cause affidavit states. “[Mr.] Merren charges a percentage for the exchange and then wire transfers the bulk amount of the currency back to its correspondent owner.

“[Mr.] Merren also prepares purchase receipts for the customers in order to make it seem as if they are purchasing or paying for services,” the court records stated.

Court records later stated that Mr. Merren’s assets in the U.S. were subject to a freezing order until the criminal matter against him is resolved. Cayman Islands police have stated they are aware of the U.S. federal investigation, but have not said whether any parallel local inquiries are being conducted related to the money laundering allegations in Cayman.

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