An alleged conspirator in a plan to bring cocaine into the Cayman Islands gave evidence this week in the Grand Court trial of David Karl Lobo, 33, a Customs officer charged with conspiracy to import cocaine.
Lesme Perez Ruiz, who had earlier pleaded guilty to conspiracy to import drugs and being knowingly concerned in the importation of cocaine, laid out the details of an intricate effort to bring drugs into Cayman via Owen Roberts International Airport in 2017.
Crown counsel Patrick Moran questioned Mr. Perez Ruiz for several hours Monday, and defense attorney Amelia Fosuhene cross-examined him Tuesday.
Mr. Perez Ruiz, a Venezuelan national who lives in Colombia, speaking via an interpreter, alleged that he was the “middleman” in a scheme to bring cocaine from Colombia into Cayman in ingested condoms.
Another man involved in the cocaine importation plan, Alan Taylor Dominguez, who has also pleaded guilty, is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday.
Mr. Perez Ruiz told the jury that Mr. Lobo purchased the drugs upon arrival in Cayman and assisted in the importation by sending fund transfers via Western Union to the conspirators.
Using cellphone data, Mr. Moran questioned Mr. Perez Ruiz about the planning process for the two smuggling operations, both of which occurred in May 2017.
According to Mr. Perez Ruiz, Mr. Dominguez had contacts in Cayman that ultimately led to Mr. Lobo, while Mr. Perez Ruiz was responsible for shepherding the smugglers on their journey to Cayman and back home.
The first smuggling operation occurred on May 12, and Mr. Perez Ruiz said he accompanied the smugglers on a journey that took them from Colombia through Panama and Cuba on their way to Cayman. He said the two smugglers had ingested condoms filled with liquid cocaine that they would later expel.
Mr. Perez Ruiz said he first met Mr. Lobo – who had allegedly sent him a Western Union transfer the day before – the night he arrived in Cayman.
Mr. Lobo met them at their hotel, he said, and Mr. Dominguez introduced him to Mr. Perez Ruiz as their contact in Cayman. “He was going to buy the drugs,” said Mr. Perez Ruiz.
They conversed in Spanish, according to the witness, and when asked how Mr. Lobo appeared to him, Mr. Perez Ruiz said he appeared normal. “Anyone who was in that kind of business would appear satisfied that it arrived at the destination,” he said.
Mr. Perez Ruiz went on to testify that another man in the drug smuggling ring, who had arrived on a separate flight, converted the liquid cocaine back into powder form. Once the process was complete, said Mr. Perez Ruiz, Mr. Lobo came back to the hotel and gave them the equivalent of US$13,000 for 950 grams of cocaine.
“On that day, we told [Mr. Dominguez] that the drugs were ready and he should pick them up. Mr. Lobo brought the money and we gave him the drugs,” he said.
Mr. Perez Ruiz, who runs a travel business in Colombia, also helped purchase a plane ticket to the U.S. for Mr. Lobo, and he said he did it under the understanding that Mr. Lobo would be attempting to move the cocaine to sellers there.
They later met again when Mr. Lobo had returned from the U.S. and began planning a second operation to move cocaine from Colombia to Cayman.
“I told him I was going to organize it,” said Mr. Perez Ruiz.
Mr. Perez Ruiz testified that Mr. Lobo sent him $1,000 via Western Union for the second trip on May 25. Mr. Lobo also helped organize hotel rooms for the incoming smugglers, he said.
Mr. Perez Ruiz also alleged that Mr. Lobo advanced him $1,000 to pay the smugglers on May 30. The second smuggling operation occurred on May 31, said Mr. Perez Ruiz, and he met two smugglers in Cuba for their flight to Cayman. He testified that he met Mr. Lobo at a fast food restaurant upon their arrival, and he said Mr. Lobo later brought a digital scale he had requested to the hotel. Earlier in the case, crown counsel Patrick Moran had shown the jury a video of Mr. Lobo purchasing a digital scale from A. L. Thompson’s.
On June 1, Mr. Lobo allegedly gave Mr. Perez Ruiz $10,000 in advance for an expected 1.8 kilograms of cocaine, leaving a balance of $12,000 upon delivery.
Mr. Lobo later dropped by the hotel when the product was nearly ready, said Mr. Perez Ruiz, but the final delivery was not made because the police arrived at the hotel and arrested the smugglers. Mr. Lobo was arrested separately while driving in his car.
Ms. Fosuhene questioned Mr. Perez Ruiz extensively Tuesday about the veracity of the various statements he made to police before pleading guilty. The witness conceded that he had told untruths to the police regarding the way that he left the airport and about the money that he had brought with him to Cayman from Cuba.
“Yesterday, I told the truth 100 percent,” he said on Tuesday. “At the beginning, in the first interview, I lied just to not get more people involved.”
After strenuous questioning, Mr. Perez Ruiz later admitted he had also lied to authorities during the course of his second and third police interviews.
Ms. Fosuhene also asked about some small bronze-and-gold pre-Columbian statues that Mr. Perez Ruiz had brought with him from Colombia in the hope of selling. Mr. Lobo said during a police interview that he had wanted to purchase the statues. Mr. Perez Ruiz told the court Tuesday that he met with Mr. Lobo while in prison and the defendant had told him to stand firm and say the only business they had was with the statues.
Cross-examination by Ms. Fosuhene was continuing at press time.