Merren faces March sentencing in drug case

A Caymanian businessman who was arrested in Puerto Rico last year on allegations related to drug smuggling and money laundering will face sentencing in U.S. federal court next month.

Bryce Merren pleaded guilty in December to conspiring with other individuals to possess cocaine – one of three charges filed against him.

The other two charges will be dropped as long as Merren adheres to all terms set forth in a sentencing agreement. The sentencing hearing is scheduled for March 18 in the U.S. District Court of Puerto Rico.

It has not been made clear in U.S. court records who is alleged to have conspired with Merren, but statements from federal prosecutors have indicated that the investigation has not ended with his arrest and guilty plea.

Merren was arrested in March 2014 on allegations that he was attempting to set up a money laundering operation to cover for planned cocaine shipments. Records from the U.S. District Court indicate that Merren revealed that at least one other man – an employee at his Cayman Islands trucking business – was involved in negotiations for cocaine shipments with two undercover federal agents. However, that man has not been charged, as far as the Cayman Compass is aware.

In motions filed on Dec. 17, U.S. attorneys asked that certain records related to Merren’s plea in the case be restricted, with access given only to selected parties.

“The [United States] is filing the pleading with the requested level of restriction because [it] … is necessary to protect the confidentiality of the matters detailed in the pleading and of the law enforcement activities affected by the pleading,” the motion to restrict access states. The motion was not immediately granted, and it was left open for Merren’s lawyers to object to it, if they wished.

In the initial probable cause affidavit filed just after Merren’s arrest, U.S. Homeland Security agents provided details of several meetings in Puerto Rico between Mr. Merren, his associate and two undercover federal agents.

In one of those meetings, on Nov. 6, 2013, between Mr. Merren and the two undercover agents, court records stated that details of the alleged money laundering scheme were discussed.

“[Mr.] Merren explained to [undercover agent #2] 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.

Royal Cayman Islands Police have refused to comment on any aspect of the Puerto Rico investigation.