Six years for repeat ganja importation

Two West Bay men were sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for importing ganja after the court was told it was their third such offense.

Mitchell Chean Ebanks and Henry Sidney Ebanks were sentenced on Tuesday by Magistrate Kirsty-Ann Gunn.

She described the defendants as “the Caymanians who set sail from Cayman to pick up the drugs.”

Two Jamaican nationals with them received lesser sentences: Ornell Brian Campbell, who was jailed for three years, and Jerome Anthony Buddo, who was given a 29-month sentence.

The court heard that the four men were found aboard a vessel that was intercepted by Marine Unit officers about a half-mile off the north coast of Grand Cayman on Nov. 13, 2015. When officers boarded the vessel, Henry Ebanks told them there was about 80 pounds of ganja aboard and they were coming from Cayman Brac.

The men were arrested and the vessel was towed to the marine base, where a search recovered 138.6 pounds of ganja. All four men were charged with being concerned in the importation of ganja.

When the sentencing process began last week, Crown counsel Kenneth Ferguson advised the court that Mitchell Ebanks, 48, who pleaded guilty in this case, had been sentenced to 15 months in prison in 1997 for importing ganja. “Apparently, he never learned,” Mr. Ferguson said, because the defendant was sentenced in 2002 to eight years for the same offense.

Mitchell Ebanks told police officers he was offered one ounce of cocaine and $100 to make the trip. He said when he went to Jamaica, other men loaded the boat.

Henry Ebanks, 53, who also pleaded guilty, had two previous convictions for importing ganja, Mr. Ferguson reported. In 1999, he received a sentence of two-and-a-half years; in 2005, he received five years.

Henry Ebanks told officers he was supposed to get $2,000 for his pay as mechanic on the boat.

Another boat met his boat off the coast of Jamaica and when “whatever” was put on the boat, he was asleep. He acknowledged smelling the ganja.

Campbell, 31, was found guilty after trial. The magistrate did not accept his account of simply getting a ride on the boat because he wanted to come to Cayman to work. She pointed out that he had worked in Cayman previously; he knew he needed to enter legally and have a passport in order to get a work permit.

Buddo, 39, was more cooperative than the others, Mr. Ferguson said. Buddo told officers he was coming to Cayman to get five pounds of ganja, which he intended to sell to assist his three children. When he got to the boat, it was already packed.

Defense attorney John Furniss represented Mitchell and Henry Ebanks.

Attorney Nicholas Dixey, representing Buddo, said his client knew what he did was wrong, but did not understand the gravity of it or the seriousness with which it is viewed in Cayman. His role was to assist in getting the boat to Cayman.

Attorney Alice Carver spoke for Campbell, saying he had struggled to find work in Jamaica and became desperate to return to Cayman, where he has relatives and a girlfriend.

The magistrate asked if any of the defendants had identified the person behind the enterprise. Mr. Ferguson said no. Further, Mitchell Ebanks and Henry Ebanks sought to put each other as the captain of the boat.

Mr. Ferguson added that the Crown was seeking the forfeiture of the vessel, which did not belong to any of the defendants.

The magistrate adjourned the matter until this week to consider the information presented, including precedents in similar cases.

On Tuesday she explained that three years was her starting point for a “secondary party” of previous good character. She said Campbell did not play a senior role in this enterprise; he could be described as a deckhand. He did not get a discount for his plea, so his sentence was three years.

For Buddo, she pointed to his intention to sell ganja. His culpability was therefore higher than a crewman. He had been working while on remand, which showed a positive attitude. That plus his cooperation and remorse enabled her to reduce a four-year sentence to 39 months. With a further 25 percent discount for his plea, his sentence was 29 months.

Turning to Mitchell and Henry Ebanks, she said neither had been deterred by his previous sentences. Their failure to identify the organizer of the enterprise was disappointing, she added.

As this was their third offense, her starting point was nine years, with a range of six to 11.

The magistrate allowed a discount for the guilty pleas, although the evidence was overwhelming.

Each man received six years.

Henry Ebanks had been further charged with human smuggling, but the magistrate said that offense was part and parcel of the operation. She imposed a concurrent term of six months.

A date is to be set for an application by the owner to get his boat back.