A Cayman Islands businessman who received a nine-year prison sentence after pleading guilty in a U.S. federal drug-trafficking conspiracy case last month has informed the court that he does not have the ability to pay a US$75,000 fine assessed in the case.
Gilroy Bryce Merren’s attorney, Jennie Espada, filed a request in the U.S. District Court in Puerto Rico that the case judge “reconsider” the fine assessed against Mr. Merren, who has been imprisoned since his arrest in March 2014 and, therefore, unable to work.
According to Ms. Espada’s statement, the court informed Merren at sentencing that it believed the US$75,000 fine was adequate. However, the assessment of the U.S. probation officer who reviewed the case was that “he does not have the ability to pay the fine.”
“Most of those assets had been sold to be able to support his daughter, pay for her university and living expenses in the mainland [U.S.],” Ms. Espada’s statement read. “The court should note that enforcing this fine will cause hardship to his family and more so to his daughter who is innocent of all wrongdoing.”
The Puerto Rico-based attorney also argued that there have been other cases involving drug conspiracies and money laundering allegations where fines assessed have been less than one-third of the amount charged to Merren.
“We understand how the court may construe Mr. Merren’s behavior as inexcusable given the circumstances of his upbringing and all the opportunities he had in life to be able to make the right choices,” the attorney’s statement read. “We do not dispute that, however, to err is human and Mr. Merren will redeem himself over time.
“The fact that he is not a hardened criminal and he has been incarcerated … for over one year amongst people who have nothing in common with him and he has seen what a life of crime entails, threats to his safety, deprivation of liberty and even the most basic needs, we guarantee this court that the time imposed is a proportionate and adequate deterrent for him never to incur this type of behavior again.”
Merren was arrested 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. 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 last month 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.”
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 Merren, his associate and the 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.
The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service has refused to comment on any aspect of the Puerto Rico investigation involving Merren.