Fred Ollen McLaughlin was refused bail on Friday afternoon after appearing in Summary Court in connection with the Christmas Eve robbery at an East End beach involving 50 to 60 pounds of cocaine.
Mr. McLaughlin, 53, is charged with conspiracy to rob and conspiracy to supply controlled drugs.
The man charged with the robbery itself, Marvin Grant, appeared in Grand Court earlier in the day. Defense attorney Prathna Bodden told Justice Charles Quin that Mr. Grant was due to have the charge put to him so he could enter his plea, but this was being put off because of the second defendant coming to court. Mr. Grant’s matter was set for mention again on Friday, Jan. 26.
When Mr. McLaughlin was brought before Magistrate Valdis Foldats, Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Patrick Moran objected to bail. He provided a summary of the incident to explain why.
On the afternoon of Dec. 24, a large quantity of cocaine appeared to have washed ashore at Morritt’s Resort in East End, Mr. Moran related. While a security guard attempted to keep the packages safe awaiting the arrival of police, a man alleged to be Marvin Grant drove to the hotel and robbed the guard of the cocaine at machete-point.
CCTV showed him arriving and getting out of a BMW unmasked. He later drove out and came back, parking the car so as to access the road easily. A man, allegedly Mr. Grant, got out of the car and, wearing a mask and carrying a machete, headed to the beach. Less than 40 seconds later, a red pickup truck came in and drove to the beach, directly to the area where the masked man had walked earlier.
The robber threatened the guard with the machete and took the packages of drugs back to the BMW.
“He must have jogged past the pickup truck,” Mr. Moran said.
The security guard tried to follow the robber, but the red pickup truck blocked his path and continued to do so as it reversed back into the car park. The guard said the truck had two occupants – the driver, who was heavyset with a dark complexion, and a passenger who was slimmer, of a lighter complexion and made a threatening remark. Within seconds of the departure of the BMW, the red truck drove away in the same direction as the BMW.
Mr. Moran said it was obvious to the guard that the two people in the truck had arrived to assist the robber with getting the drugs. The hotel manager also saw the truck and formed the opinion that it was blocking the guard.
After police arrived and viewed CCTV footage, they identified Mr. Grant as the robbery suspect and he was subsequently arrested.
When police spoke with Mr. McLaughlin, he said he had driven to the hotel that day. He said he often drove onto the beach to check who was at the bar and then he reversed out. On this occasion, he said, he was shocked to see a masked man and figured something untoward was going on and he left.
Mr. McLaughlin told police he knew Mr. Grant, as they had worked together previously. He said Mr. Grant had phoned him that morning to say he would be cutting meat.
The magistrate asked if the CCTV showed two individuals in the truck. Mr. Moran said the sun was shining too brightly, but he offered to show the magistrate the footage. This was done later in the hearing, on a screen that could be seen by everyone in the courtroom.
“From any view, this was an audacious enterprise to bring drugs onto the island,” Mr. Moran told the court. If sold on the street for $50 a gram, the cocaine would be worth over $1.3 million, he said. He pointed out that a weapon had been used in full view of tourists and he described evidence of Mr. McLaughlin’s involvement as “powerful” and set out his reasons for objecting to bail.
He and defense attorney Jonathon Hughes agreed that conspiracy charges are Category B, meaning they can be tried in Summary Court or Grand Court. At this stage, no choice was made by either side.
Mr. Hughes disagreed about the strength of the evidence and questioned whether any witness heard any alleged threat. He said Mr. McLaughlin was the only person in the truck. He acknowledged the defendant’s previous convictions, but pointed out that the last offense was in 2007; since then, Mr. McLaughlin had made a remarkable turnaround and was focused on his family and his construction, janitorial and landscaping businesses. He had scores of employees and was a “hands-on” manager.
The attorney said Mr. McLaughlin had worked hard to rebuild his reputation. He was scheduled to begin a major project: “If he is not there, the project will stall and the employment of 60 or more men will be at risk,” Mr. Hughes told the court.
The magistrate remanded Mr. McLaughlin in custody, but reminded him that he had the right to appeal that decision in Grand Court. The next mention was set for Tuesday.