A Caymanian man serving a nine-year prison sentence in the U.S. for drug possession conspiracy should not have his time in jail reduced or vacated simply because his attorney failed to visit him in prison after he was sentenced, according to federal prosecutors.
Gilroy Bryce Merren sought to appeal his sentence in documents filed with the court in June, about a year after sentence in the drugs conspiracy case was set.
The appeal filing from June stated: “After sentencing, counsel never came and visited or talked with Mr. Merren about an appeal. [But] for his counsel’s deficient failure to consult with him about an appeal, he would have timely appealed.”
Federal prosecutors stated that in December 2014, Merren pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute between 50 kilograms and 150 kg of cocaine via an operation he attempted to set up in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Prosecutors said Merren, who was 47 at the time, would have faced between 11 and 14 years’ imprisonment, according to federal sentencing guidelines, but that his attorney negotiated a plea bargain down to nine years, based on certain terms.
Part of the plea agreement, according to court records, was that Merren agreed to waive his right to appeal his conviction or his sentence.
According to court records, during the sentencing proceedings before the U.S. federal court, the presiding judge pointed out: “In your plea agreement, at paragraph 15, you agree to waive your right to appeal both the judgment and the sentence provided … Are you aware of that?”
Merren’s response: “Yes, Your Honor.”
“Moreover, Merren does not even allege that he expressed any interest in appealing his sentence,” federal prosecutors stated in court records filed Oct. 20. “Thus, under the circumstances present here, counsel has no reason to think that a reasonable defendant would have wanted to appeal. He cannot show that he was prejudiced by his [attorney’s] performance, especially when any appeal would have been dismissed pursuant to his waiver [of that right].”
Various records related to the Merren drugs conspiracy investigation remain under wraps in the U.S. federal court system, including copies of the arrest warrant filed in the case and certain financial affidavits filed on Merren’s behalf. In addition, redactions were made to transcripts of Merren’s sentencing and change of plea hearings from 2015. The partially redacted transcripts were released in September.
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 that 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 U.S. Homeland Security agents.
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 charges, alleging money laundering and drug possession, were dropped as part of the plea deal with federal prosecutors.
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, details of the alleged money laundering scheme were discussed, court records state.
“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.”
Royal Cayman Islands Police have consistently refused to comment on any aspect of the Puerto Rico investigation involving Merren.