Bryce Merren appeals US prison sentence

Acting without legal counsel, Cayman Islands businessman Gilroy Bryce Merren has filed an appeal in U.S. federal court of his nine-year prison sentence for drug possession conspiracy.

The appeal filing, which was received by the U.S. District Court of Puerto Rico on June 15, appears to have been mailed from an address in Folkston, Georgia. Merren asks the court to “construe this pleading liberally and hold it to a less stringent standard than formal pleading to state valid claims on which [the] litigant could prevail.”

Merren pleaded guilty in June 2015 to one count of drug possession conspiracy in a case that involved what federal prosecutors said was an attempt to set up a cocaine smuggling operation in Puerto Rico.

Unknown to Merren, two of his co-conspirators were U.S. Homeland Security agents posing as drug dealers.

In separate court records, Merren stated that the reason for his appeal was that his attorney failed to lodge an appeal. The appeal is being sought against the sentence, not the conviction.

“After sentencing, counsel never came and visited or talked with Mr. Merren about an appeal,” the court records state. “[But] for his counsel’s deficient failure to consult with him about an appeal, he would have timely appealed.”

The time line for appeals in federal criminal court is typically 30 days from the date of sentencing, barring unusual circumstances. The specific grounds for the appeal in Merren’s case were not presented to the U.S. court until the June 15 filing, which Merren acknowledges. At the time of his sentencing in late June 2015, U.S. court officials recommended that Merren, now 49, be transferred from Puerto Rico to serve his 108-month [nine-year] sentence.

In addition to the sentence, Merren faced five years’ probation and a US$75,000 fine, which he stated in court records he could not afford to pay. In February 2016, the court ruled that Merren’s fine would not be reduced or eliminated since he had previously claimed assets of more than US$400,000.

It is possible Merren could get time off his sentence for good behavior. He could also be deported, rather than serve the five-year probation period in the U.S.

Merren was arrested in March 2014 for allegedly 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 Merren’s Cayman Islands trucking business – was involved in negotiations in 2013 and 2014 for cocaine shipments with two undercover federal agents. That man has not been charged in the case, 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. Two other charges, alleging money laundering and drug possession, were dropped as part of a plea deal with federal prosecutors.