Merren drops appeal in U.S. drug case

A Cayman businessman’s effort to reduce his U.S. jail sentence on a drug conspiracy charge by claiming he had ineffective legal counsel has been abandoned.

Last year, Gilroy Bryce Merren sought to appeal his nine-year prison sentence because, he alleged, his attorney failed to visit him in prison after he was sentenced.

A handwritten, two-page letter received last month by the U.S. District Court in Puerto Rico, where Merren was arrested, asked the court to withdraw the appeal motion filed in June 2016.

“[Merren] now feels that it is [in] his best interest to withdraw his motion,” the letter states.  The appeal filing from June 2016 states: “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.”

The request to withdraw the appeal motion brings to an end Merren’s remaining legal matters with U.S. law enforcement, although prosecutors have made statements to the court that the investigation continues against others who may be involved in the drug transshipment conspiracy.

Merren pleaded guilty in December 2014 to conspiring to distribute between 50 kilograms and 150kg 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.

Various records related to the Merren drug 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 2016.

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 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 Rico 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,” the court record states.

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