Drug lord Springette testifies against Blyden, Mar
Published: May 6, 2010
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ST. THOMAS — Drug kingpin James Springette and two of his henchmen, Elton Turnbull and Glenison Isaac, revealed in graphic detail Wednesday the intricate operations of a multinational drug organization that moved cocaine from Venezuela to Tortola then to St. Thomas and on to its final destination in North Carolina and how Gelean Mark was a pivotal figure in the drug cartel.
Springette, Turnbull and Isaac, who are all serving prison sentences after pleading guilty to drug-trafficking offenses, were testifying at the trial of Mark and his co-defendant, Police Sgt. Jerome Blyden.
At the time that Springette, Turnbull and Isaac entered into the plea agreements with the government, they signed cooperation agreements “to truthfully testify and assist the government when asked to do so.”
Blyden and Mark, a twice-convicted drug dealer, stand accused of running a criminal enterprise that engaged in illegal narcotics distribution, unlawful gambling related to dogfighting and acts of violence, including the May 24, 2004, shooting of Nick Friday Jr.
From street dealer to kingpin
Springette, 49, testified that he rose from very small beginnings and took steps to head his own drug-trafficking organization, which proved to be a dangerous journey — he was arrested and jailed in Colombia, escaped from the jail and made his way to Venezuela, where he was taken into custody and incarcerated.
“I started off selling drugs in the mid 1980s in St. Thomas. I started off with $500, started selling powder cocaine, then I went to $1,000, then I went to tens of thousands of dollars,” Springette said.
Springette left St. Thomas and went directly to the source of his cocaine supply: Colombia.
“I started making drug shipments from Colombia to the Virgin Islands. There were many people involved — pilots, couriers, wrappers, lookouts, some people might be sent to different countries to courier money — so drug trafficking is an organization,” Springette said.
Jurors stared intently at Springette as he explained how a drug shipment got from South America to the continental U.S.
“All the drugs came out of Colombia, destination Virgin Islands to the U.S.,” Springette said. “From Colombia, they were dropped by aircraft to the BVI, then brought to the V.I. by boat, then to the U.S. by aircraft and some will be left in Puerto Rico. The V.I. route came about because we had people in the V.I. who could assist and facilitate us getting drugs into the U.S.
“Robert Joseph knew persons who worked at the airport who would get the drugs to my cousin Elton Turnbull in the U.S.,” Springette told the jury.”
Then Springette was arrested 1999 and put in a Colombian jail, but that did not stop the flow of drugs through his organization.
“I was incarcerated in Colombia for one year from 1999 until 2000. When I was in prison in Colombia, I was drug trafficking. Drugs were passing through the V.I.
“I escaped in March 2000,” Springette said.
After his escape from the Colombian prison, Springette left that country and took up residence in neighboring Venezuela where he continued his drug operation.
By that time, his enterprise had a corporate-style structure.
“I spoke to my lieutenants who spoke to people in the organization. I didn’t speak to the people directly because of my safety,” Springette said.
Link to Mark
According to an organizational chart, Springette operated out of Venezuela and sent the drugs to Robert Hodge. Then a man only known as “Jeffrey” would be responsible for the drug distribution in Puerto Rico and New York, while Robert Joseph, Turnbull and Gelean Mark, nicknamed “Kirwin,” had the job of getting the drugs distributed on St. Thomas and sent to North Carolina.
Although Springette had no direct contact with Mark or ever saw him, he knew Mark was a part of his organization.
“Elton Turnbull worked alongside Mark. Robert Joseph worked with Mark. Mark was a contractor in the organization. Mark got paid as part of his job in the organization. Mark’s involvement in the organization was from 2001 to 2002. He was in charge of getting the drugs through the airport in St. Thomas to North Carolina,” Springette testified.
Then in November 2002, two years after Springette was arrested in Colombia, Venezuelan authorities caught up with his drug activities and arrested him. Springette said that brought an end to his drug-trafficking career.
“I was extradited to the U.S. from Venezuela,” Springette said.
Turnbull, 39, was a lieutenant in Springette’s organization. He took the stand Wednesday and confirmed that Gelean Mark had business dealings in the organization and that Turnbull had direct dealings with Mark from the late fall of 1998.
“One of my roles was communicating with other members of the organization,” Turnbull testified.
One of those members was Mark, whom Turnbull said he met for the first time in Greensboro, N.C., through a co-conspirator, Robert Thomas.
“During that time, Mark had come to North Carolina. He had sold some narcotics. He didn’t want to come back to St. Thomas,” Turnbull testified.
Turnbull saw Mark a second time in the summer of 2002 when they met to discuss moving drugs from the airport in St. Thomas to North Carolina.
“Mark gave me a description of how the drugs would move through the airport. There was a gentleman at the airport who worked with Delta Airlines. He had a leather case. A courier would come with an identical bag with books. The bags would be switched and the courier would board the plane to North Carolina. That mode of operation took place from 1999 to 2002. We used this method well over 10 times in 1999, in 2000 over 10 times and in 2001 between 15 to 20 times. My incarceration came in 2002 and basically, that’s when everything ceased,” Turnbull said.
After the narcotics arrived into Charlotte, N.C., via a commercial airline, Turnbull testified, Turnbull would have his men retrieve the drugs.
“I lived in Greensboro, which is an hour and a half from Charlotte. I would have drivers go to the airport, meet the couriers at the airport and bring the narcotics back. There was an occasion when the couriers would fly into Raleigh,” Turnbull said.
On the days when drugs would be moved, Turnbull was notified by Mark.
“Mark would call me on the specific day and tell me we’re working today and give me descriptions of the courier if he had recruited the couriers. Once the drugs got to North Carolina, I had various places to store the drugs. I had roughly about eight to nine people that I sold drugs to in North Carolina. Glenison Isaac was a friend of Mark’s who lived in Raleigh. He was involved in the trade with me and Mark. On several occasions, I sold kilos to him. I was selling one kilo of cocaine for $22,000 on average,” Turnbull testified.
Another function Turnbull performed in the organization was to monitor the drugs’ arrival in Tortola.
“One of my duties was to be present at the boat drops that took place in Tortola. Springette would notify me when a shipment is coming to St. Thomas. I would leave for St. Thomas, go to Tortola and stay in a specific location until the shipment came. They were in bundles of 30 kilos per bale. I would retrieve them from the water, store them on the boat until we brought them to land. Then we discussed how much was going to Puerto Rico and how much was going to North Carolina. Springette made that decision,” Turnbull said.
Turnbull and Mark also engaged in dogfighting and gambling, according to Turnbull’s testimony.
Turnbull, who holds a college degree in animal science, said he was interested in dogfighting at age 11 or 12 and first became actively involved in 1994.
“I have given Mark dogs on several occasions, and he and I have attended dogfights together in one area in the North Side called “the farm.” There are cages where the birds are stored and several dogs at that location,” Turnbull said.
He then explained how the gambling aspect worked.
“The gamble would take place when you match the dog with someone else’s dog. The dog that wins the fight, the owner would collect the wager from the other owner. I helped pool the money together to fight dogs twice. The first time, Mark was involved in finding someone else to match the dog with one I sent from North Carolina. The amount was $5,000. Another fight took place at “the farm” that I attended around Carnival 1999. There was a pit constructed at the rear of an unoccupied house. I’m personally not aware of the amount for that fight,” Turnbull testified.
Isaac testified Wednesday that he, too, was actively involved in the drug trade. He began selling cocaine in 1991 on a small scale, then increased to selling 10 kilos in a week or two from 1995 until he was arrested in 1998. Isaac was imprisoned from December 1999 to November 2002 and started plying his drug trade in 2003, when he was released, until 2005, when he got caught again.
Isaac said that he has known Mark since childhood and that he met Blyden through Mark.
“Mark sent him on trip to me in 2004. He called me up one day and told me he’s sending his bodyguard. At that time, I lived in North Carolina. He told me he was sending him to “cool out,” “ Isaac said.
In March 2003, Isaac came to St. Thomas to get back into the business of selling drugs, he said, and he would meet with Mark every day.
“I told him I want to start selling drugs. He told me he’ll get me back on my feet. Mark and I talked about how he will move drugs from St. Thomas to the U.S. I was going to receive some drugs from another individual from New York. I would receive drugs from Mark twice a month, 10 kilos of cocaine per trip,” he said.
After Isaac sold the cocaine for $22,000 a kilo, he would pocket $2,000 and send the rest of the money down to Mark using a female courier.
The two also engaged in dogfighting. Isaac said he sold Mark five dogs for $2,000 and on several occasions, he attended dogfights with Mark that netted purses up to $40,000.
It was at those dogfights that Isaac saw Blyden.
“He was security, dressed in all black with an assault rifle and a mask, and he would be collecting the money,” Isaac said.
As the trial wound down for the day, the court also heard testimony from former Bureau of Corrections Officer Theodore Philips, who worked with agents of the Drug Enforcement Agency as a confidential informant and who purchased drugs from Alan Dinzey in Savan on at least seven occasions.
A number of forensic scientists from the DEA confirmed that the substance Philips purchased from Dinzey was cocaine base.
Several DEA agents also testified about the sting operation they implemented as they launched an investigation into Springette’s drug organization.
— Contact reporter Corliss Smithen at 774-8772 ext 302 or