Bryce Merren’s guilty plea in U.S. District Court last week could mean the Cayman Islands businessman will face 10 years or more in prison, according to federal court documents released on Friday.
Records from the United States District Court in Puerto Rico indicate that Merren, who was arrested there in March on allegations that he was attempting to set up a money laundering operation to cover up planned cocaine shipments, pleaded guilty “to knowingly and intentionally combine, conspire and agree [with] other persons known and unknown to the Grand Jury, to commit an offense….that is, to knowingly and intentionally possess with intent to distribute a mixture or substance in excess of five kilograms [of cocaine].”
The charge, according to court records, carries a prison term “which may not be less than 10 years or more than life [imprisonment], a fine not to exceed US$10 million and a term of supervised release of at least five years.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean Merren will face the full sentence, according to a plea deal worked out with U.S. prosecutors.
“The sentence will be left entirely to the sound discretion of the court,” the records indicated. “The defendant may not withdraw [the] plea solely as a result of the sentence imposed…”
If the case had gone to trial, sentencing guidelines would have been in the range of 11 to 18 years, according to court records.
The other charges against Merren, including the money laundering allegations, will be dropped at his sentencing date, assuming he pleads guilty and follows all other terms of the arrangement with federal prosecutors, some of which were not made public.
A sentencing date had not been set in Merren’s case as of press time Sunday.
The stipulated version of the facts that led to Merren’s guilty plea before the U.S. District Court on Thursday was set out in court records released last week.
“Had the [U.S.] government proceeded to trial, it would have presented testimony…that would reveal that Gilroy Bryce Merren met in multiple occasions with an undercover agent to coordinate the purchase and sea transfer of 1,000 kilograms of cocaine. [Prosecutors had earlier referred to the defendant as Bryce Gilroy Merren, but acknowledged Thursday that this was done in error.]
“In furtherance of the conspiracy to achieve its objects, [Merren] provided a second undercover agent his personal identifying information to open a bank account into which he wire transferred $200,000 as initial deposit for the payment of the transportation costs for the delivery and sea transfer of 1,000 kilograms of cocaine. [Merren] also coordinated and procured the assistance of other persons known and unknown to the Grand Jury, including individuals who mailed packages to the undercover agent in furtherance of the drug transaction.”
Other than the two undercover U.S. agents mentioned in the court records, the only other person identified by the court in the alleged “conspiracy” was an associate of Merren who is named in public court records but has not been charged, as far as public records indicate.
Those records allege that Merren intended to use certain business interests in the Cayman Islands and Curacao to assist in laundering money from the sale of thousands of kilograms of cocaine. U.S. federal investigators revealed in court that they also had photographs and video stills of these meetings, held in August 2013, November 2013 and March 2014 in San Juan with Merren, the undercover agents and Merren’s associate.
The Cayman Compass is not naming the associate because he has not been charged as far as the Compass is aware. The newspaper has learned that the person worked for a Cayman Islands trucking company owned by Merren.
No one else has been charged in the conspiracy case in public records of the U.S. criminal court system.
***Editor’s Note: An earlier online version of this story had an incorrect headline. The headline has been corrected.***