Atlanta man arrested in King Airport drug smuggling case
Published: August 15, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - The federal drug conspiracy case involving workers at King Airport on St. Thomas has grown, with an Atlanta man charged and extradited to the Virgin Islands.
Marlon Underhill, 39, appeared in District Court on Wednesday and entered not guilty pleas to two charges in the case.
According to Joycelyn Hewlett, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, Underhill has been charged with conspiracy with intent to distribute cocaine and possession with intent to distribute cocaine.
The indictment against Underhill still is under seal, Hewlett said.
Gordon Rhea, who represents Underhill, said the charges pertain to a single alleged transaction involving 9 kilograms of cocaine in mid-July 2011.
The indictment against three co-defendants in the case - Leayle Benjamin, Aben Marrero Jr., and Michael Samuels, all of St. Thomas - says that the men were part of a smuggling ring that sent cocaine to Atlanta and Miami. Two of the men, Marrero and Benjamin, worked in the maintenance division of the Port Authority and used their positions to arrange drug shipments and pass off cocaine to couriers in the airport's restroom from mid-July 2011 to October 2011, according to the indictment.
According to court documents, Underhill originally is from Tortola and has green card status in the United States. He was arrested in Atlanta on July 25 and lives in Lithonia, Ga.
According to a motion for pre-trial release filed by Rhea, prosecutors claim that Underhill met someone at the Jackson-Hartsfield International Airport near Atlanta, dropped the co-conspirator off at a hotel and kept a carry-on bag containing 9 kilograms of cocaine.
Rhea said at Underhill's arraignment Wednesday that Underhill has been residing in Georgia for the last seven years and had been working as a used car salesman. Rhea asked that the court release Underhill so that he could return to his wife and two children.
Rhea presented Underhill's mother, aunt, uncle and friends of the family, including former Virgin Islands Sen. Adlah Donastorg as potential witnesses to verify that Underhill is not, as prosecutors contended, a danger to the community.
A firearm collected from Underhill's residence after his arrest was registered to him, Rhea said.
Magistrate Judge Ruth Miller said that because of the interstate travel involved in future court appearances, she would consider releasing Underhill on an unsecured bond only if a third-party custodian in the territory could be secured.
Rhea called David O'Neal Sr. and his wife Beryl O'Neal, of Estate Fortuna, as witnesses. The couple testified to their willingness to serve as third-party custodians. David O'Neal said that he has known Underhill's mother since high school and would be able to provide for his compliance with conditions of release.
Miller ordered that Underhill be placed on home confinement at the O'Neals' residence and electronically monitored. She issued a $25,000 unsecured appearance bond for Underhill.
U.S. Attorney Nelson Jones said that a superseding indictment in the case would be forthcoming within the next week.
In a separate but apparently related case, three baggage handlers at King Airport have been charged with trafficking cocaine by inserting it into checked luggage, passing it off to couriers for transport in carry-on bags and flagging checked luggage carrying narcotics with colored scarves so that they would pass undetected through security.
Isa Noel and Kirsten Alexander have pleaded not guilty in District Court to drug conspiracy charges, but the third defendant, Joelvis Acosta Liz, pleaded guilty Aug. 7 to one count of drug conspiracy.
- Contact Amanda Norris at 714-9104 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.