Merren gets time for plea deal

A Caymanian businessman accused of attempting to set up a money laundering scheme to cover up profits from the planned sale of cocaine in Puerto Rico has received a six-week extension to work out a plea agreement with U.S. federal authorities.

According to records filed in U.S. district court in Puerto Rico, a judge extended the time line for plea negotiations in Bryce Merren’s case until Sept. 19 with corresponding motions due by Sept. 29.

If no agreement can be reached, a trial date has been scheduled in San Juan, Puerto Rico, for Oct. 10.

Merren is charged with conspiracy to distribute narcotics and intent to sell, distribute or dispense cocaine under U.S. federal criminal law. He also faces an additional count of money laundering of monetary instruments.

Merren’s attorney has made no secret of the fact that a plea agreement would be her preferred course of action in the case.

“Certainly this attorney can categorically state we will not recommend trial to this client based on the weight of the evidence, amongst other reasons,” read a motion seeking the trial delay filed by attorney Jennie Mariel Espada in U.S. federal court. “At this point, we believe he will not exercise his right to trial.”

Ms. Espada said her office is arranging to meet with Merren at the federal prison in Atlanta, Georgia, to discuss “the benefits of entering a plea in this case and avoid the risk of trial.” Merren was moved to the U.S. mainland in June from the federal jail in Puerto Rico for unspecified reasons. It is still up to Merren to decide whether he will waive his constitutionally-guaranteed right to trial.

According to publicly available court records in the U.S., a probable cause affidavit filed by Homeland Security Special Agent Harry Schmidt alleges that 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 Merren intended to use certain business interests in the Cayman Islands and the southern Caribbean island of Curacao to help launder the money.

Agent Schmidt’s probable cause affidavit states that U.S. federal investigators in San Juan, Puerto Rico, received confidential information in July 2013 that 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.”