Customs officer David Karl Lobo took the stand in his own defense Thursday and Friday, offering testimony in the Grand Court trial of conspiracy to import cocaine.
Mr. Lobo, who is charged with being concerned in the sale of cocaine, testified about his involvement in two smuggling operations that brought drugs from Colombia to Cayman.
He told the jury that he believed he was making a purchase of pre-Columbian art from a Colombian-based smuggler named Lesme Perez Ruiz. Alan Taylor Dominguez, a friend of both Mr. Lobo and Mr. Ruiz, allegedly acted as an intermediary.
Both Mr. Perez Ruiz and Mr. Dominguez have pleaded guilty to their roles in bringing cocaine into Cayman twice in June of 2017, and they testified that Mr. Lobo purchased the cocaine from them. Mr. Lobo strenuously denied those claims on Thursday when asked about his role in cocaine importation by defense counsel Amelia Fosuhene.
“One billion percent, I was never involved in any conspiracy or any conversations dealing with importing cocaine to the Cayman Islands or anywhere else in the world,” said Mr. Lobo, who worked in the Customs Department’s Fraud Enforcement Division.
Mr. Perez Ruiz was caught in a hotel room with 1.8 kilograms of cocaine on June 2, and Mr. Lobo was arrested separately after being seen at the hotel. Shortly after driving away from the hotel, Mr. Lobo was arrested with $13,400 in cash in his car.
Mr. Lobo admitted bringing a digital scale to Mr. Perez Ruiz, and he was asked to explain CCTV footage of himself buying the scale at A. L. Thompson’s. Mr. Lobo allegedly used another phone number instead of his own when purchasing the scale.
“Anything we purchase, it’s my mother’s number that we use,” he said of making the purchase. “I knew cameras were there. I know cameras are everywhere. I don’t know why the prosecution and their witnesses have made a scale such a heinous crime to own. God forbid you have a scale at home and a police officer finds it.”
Statues, not drugs
Mr. Lobo, who has been on required leave from Customs department since last June, told the court that he was hoping to buy statues, not drugs, from Mr. Perez Ruiz.
“Lesme said these statues are national treasures. That they belong to the government,” he said. “To me, it was no concern about what they were doing. If it was illegal for them to bring them out, it was not illegal to bring them into Cayman.… Even if they were pure gold, it would not be illegal to bring into Cayman. They would be duty-free.”
Patrick Moran, the acting director of public prosecutions, questioned Mr. Lobo about purchasing statues from another country as part of his cross-examination.
Mr. Lobo testified that he did not think it would be a crime to purchase the statues, even if they had been stolen from the government of Colombia and smuggled to Cayman.
He also told the court that he had purchased castor oil and brought it to the smugglers, but he said he thought it was for polishing the statues.
Mr. Moran also questioned Mr. Lobo about a series of wire transfers he had sent to Mr. Perez Ruiz in Colombia.
The Crown demonstrated through receipts and witness testimony that Mr. Lobo had wired $300 to Mr. Perez Ruiz on May 11 before his first journey to Cayman, and then $1,000 on May 25 and May 30.
Mr. Perez Ruiz testified in court that those payments were meant to aid in bringing cocaine to Cayman, but Mr. Lobo said that they were meant to be loans.
“It was reasonable for me to lend him,” he said. “I’m a very reasonable person. Now, in this case, I realize I go too far and beyond. Now I realize I was taken advantage of.”
Mr. Perez Ruiz, who is awaiting sentencing, told the jury earlier in the trial that Mr. Lobo had paid him $10,000 and still had to pay the remainder of around $13,000 for 1.8 kilograms of cocaine.
Mr. Lobo visited the hotel on numerous occasions while the smugglers were converting the cocaine back from liquid to powder. Mr. Perez Ruiz claimed that Mr. Lobo would have seen the drugs as they were being converted, but on the witness stand Mr. Lobo denied having seen them.
Mr. Moran attempted to demonstrate that Mr. Lobo had successfully paid for a kilogram of cocaine and subsequently sent it to the U.S. the first time Mr. Perez Ruiz had visited Cayman. The second time, they were thwarted by law enforcement, but Mr. Lobo countered that the cash was earmarked for purchasing a car and that he never would have paid for drugs without leaving the premises with them.
“Had I paid Mr. Lesme any money, if I was involved with drugs, I would’ve taken the drugs with me,” he said in response to Mr. Moran. “I would not leave this man with $10,000 and not take the drugs as you suggest.”
The case was adjourned for the Christmas holidays and will return to court on Jan. 2.