Both juries begins deliberations in trials for suspected Tapia drug trafficking ring suppliers


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ST. THOMAS - The juries began deliberations Wednesday in two federal drug trafficking cases that involved convicted drug runner Roberto Tapia and former V.I. Police Sgt. Angelo Hill.

Walter Hill and Raymond Brown are accused of supplying cocaine to Tapia, they are facing numerous charges in District Court, including conspiracy, possession and intent to distribution cocaine.

After the prosecution rested Wednesday, Chief District Judge Curtis Gomez ruled on several motions filed by Brown's defense attorney, Arturo Watlington Jr.

Gomez threw out two of Brown's counts, both intent to distribute charges. He still is charged with several counts of conspiracy and use of a telephone to conspire.

In closing arguments, Watlington and Walter Hill's attorney, Joseph Mingolla II, painted Tapia and Angelo Hill as "desperate men" who were backed into a corner and would do anything to reduce their sentences.

Tapia was arrested by federal agents on May 17 and found with 7.72 kilos of cocaine in a backpack. His was the first in a string of related arrests.

Tapia pleaded guilty to racketeering in September; Angelo Hill pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy in December.

Some of Tapia and Hill's codefendants - including Edwin Monsanto, Eddie Lopez-Lopez, Angel Negron-Beltran and Stephen Torres - also pleaded guilty to taking part in the drug conspiracy.

Tapia was called as a witness in the case against Walter Hill and Brown. Earlier this week, he testified that the men both were suppliers for him.

The defense chose not to put on a case, leaving the burden of proof in the hands of Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelly Lake.

Lake gave closing arguments Wednesday, reminding the jury that they had heard Walter Hill and Brown talk about buying and selling drugs on taped phone calls.

"We know it from the testimony of the witnesses, and we know it from the phone calls," Lake said.

"What you heard is a lot of nonsense," Watlington said during his closing.

He said Tapia is not a credible witness, and he is a disgraced law enforcement officer. Watlington also pointed out that his client was not exactly caught red-handed. He said one of the witnesses, Negron-Beltran, testified that he had a deal with Brown, but that was the extent of the proof against his client.

"Where are the two kilos?" Watlington asked. "Where is the money from those two kilos?" Mingolla defended his client in similar fashion, questioning the motives of Angelo Hill and Tapia in pointing fingers at his client.

"They have never found drugs on my client," Mingolla said.

Mingolla pointed out something Tapia said on the stand during trial to explain why he took so long to finger Walter Hill.

"Tapia said he didn't say anything about my client because he feared for his life," Mingolla said.

Mingolla questioned this statement, noting that during this time Tapia was working at his mother's food stand where he was easy to find.

"His credibility stinks," Mingolla said.

The federal investigation netted about 17,000 tapped phone calls between the defendants and Tapia and others involved in the drug trafficking ring. Of those calls, about 1,800 were deemed relevant.

While Lake played some of the calls for the jury, highlighting the code words she said were used for kilos of cocaine. "Applications," "sons" and "prescriptions," she said were used to describe kilos of cocaine.

"They're innocuous conversations," Mingolla said. "There's no discussion of drugs, or money or anything in those phone conversations."

Tapia's drug smuggling

Tapia testified that he conducted his drug trafficking operation for more than a decade in the territory. He started while he was an officer with the V.I. Police Department and continued when he became assistant director of enforcement for the Department of Planning and Natural Resources in 2006, he said.

In 2010, he recalled his promotion to director of enforcement for the department, after which he continued to conduct a drug smuggling operation, often times while dressed and armed as a DPNR official, and while in a DPNR vehicle or vessel.

The scope of the investigation into Tapia and his drug trafficking affairs is limited to 2008-12, according to indictments.

The juries began deliberations Wednesday and will continue today.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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