Bryce Merren gets 9 years, US$75,000 fine

A Cayman Islands businessman who received a nine-year prison sentence on U.S. drug possession conspiracy charges last week will likely serve the bulk of his jail time in Miami, Florida.

U.S. District Court officials in Puerto Rico recommended that Gilroy Bryce Merren, 48, be transferred from Puerto Rico to serve his 108-month sentence. Merren’s attorneys requested that he be allowed to serve the prison sentence in his home country, but the court indicated that application would have to be made to the appropriate authorities following incarceration.

In addition to the prison sentence, Merren had a five-year probation period tacked on, along with a US$75,000 fine to be paid immediately. It is possible the Cayman Islands man could get time off his sentence for good behavior. He could also be deported, rather than serving the five-year probation period in the U.S.

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 through Puerto Rico. Records from the U.S. District Court indicate that Merren revealed at least one other man – an employee at his Cayman Islands trucking business – was involved in negotiations during 2013 and 2014 for cocaine shipments with two undercover federal agents. However, that man has not been charged, as far as the Cayman Compass is aware.

Merren pleaded guilty in December 2014 to one count in an indictment alleging he conspired with other individuals to possess cocaine. It was one of the three charges initially filed against him. The other two, alleging money laundering and drug possession, were dropped as part of the plea deal with federal prosecutors.

“This is a difficult time for our family, particularly for our mother and Bryce’s daughter,” read a statement by Merren’s brother, Randy, who attended the sentencing Thursday afternoon in San Juan.

“In his statement to the court, Bryce expressed remorse to his family, his friends and his country for his actions and took responsibility for the choices that led to this outcome.”

Other statements of support for Bryce Merren were filed with the Puerto Rican court on Thursday.

“I know that [Merren’s] time incarcerated has [taught] him how his lack of self-control and extreme emotional state influenced his resorting to his actions and he has vowed that, if released, he would in no way look down that road ever again,” wrote Constance Sheow, a U.K. resident who lived in the Cayman Islands for many years. “I have known Mr. Merren for the past 47 years. The younger children in the community would look up to him as he would always ensure that in the summer they all had jobs, working in his family business … a well-known supermarket in the Cayman Islands.”

U.S. District Court officials declined to change sentencing guidelines, which would have lowered the potential sentence Merren could receive. Also, the court indicated that Merren had no specific offender characteristics that would have allowed it to consider changing the sentence.

If he had gone to trial on the charges against him, Merren could have faced a sentence of 30 years or more.

In motions filed with the Puerto Rican court on Dec. 17, 2014, 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.

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 Merren and the two undercover agents, court records stated that details of the alleged money laundering scheme were discussed.

“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. “Merren charges a percentage for the exchange and then wire transfers the bulk amount of the currency back to its correspondent owner.

“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 involving Merren.