Juries return very different verdicts in simultaneous trials of 2 men involved in Tapia drug trafficking ring


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ST. THOMAS - The two juries - one for each defendant - returned verdicts Thursday in a drug trafficking case involving former Department of Planning and Natural Resources enforcement director Roberto Tapia.

Walter Hill was found guilty on all three drug counts: possession of a controlled substance; conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance; and using a telephone to facilitate a drug crime.

Raymond Brown was found not guilty on nine of the 10 counts he faced, and the jury found him guilty on one count of using a telephone to facilitate a drug crime.

Both men were accused of supplying drugs to Tapia as part of a large drug trafficking ring.

They were the only two remaining defendants with set trials in a case that netted Tapia, who also was a former V.I. Police officer, as well as former V.I. Police Sgt. Angelo Hill, and four others who have pleaded guilty.

Defendant Hector Alcenio is the only defendant whose status is in limbo, with no trial date set and no plea agreement filed.

The other defendants in the case, including Angelo Hill, pleaded guilty. Tapia, Edwin Monsanto, Eddie Lopez-Lopez, Angel Negron-Beltran, Stephen Torres and Angelo Hill all are scheduled now for sentencing in the coming months.

District Judge Curtis Gomez decided to try Walter Hill and Brown simultaneously, but using two separate juries. Both juries sat in the courtroom together and listened to much of the same evidence and testimony.

Walter Hill's attorney Joe Mingolla II said this was highly irregular.

The jury for Walter Hill came back first, with the guilty verdict.

Several hours later, the jury for Brown came back and said they were deadlocked. However, before Gomez could accept or reject the jury's stance, members of the jury volunteered to go back and continue deliberating. About an hour later, the jury informed the court it had reached a verdict.

Brown originally was charged with conspiracy, possession with intent to distribute drugs and using the telephone to distribute drugs. However, the Gomez threw out two counts of intent to distribute following several motions filed by Brown's attorney, Arturo Watlington Jr.

Brown was acquitted of the conspiracy charge and eight counts of using a telephone to facilitate a drug crime. The jury found him guilty on one of the telephone charges relating to a specific phone call made Dec. 2, 2012.

Gomez said that conviction carries a possible sentence of four years in prison, with no mandatory minimum sentence and a maximum fine of $250,000.

Sentencing for Brown has been scheduled for July 31, and Gomez allowed him to remain free on an unsecured bond until April 15, when he must voluntarily report to the marshals.

Watlington said he would have to confer with his client before deciding whether they would appeal the verdict.

Walter Hill faces a maximum penalty of life in prison and a maximum fine of $10 million.

His sentencing also is scheduled for July 31.

Mingolla said he planned to appeal the verdict.

Tapia testified during the three-day trial that Walter Hill sold him 7 kilograms of cocaine. Tapia said he used a Department of Planning and Natural Resources vessel to pick up money that he then used to buy cocaine from Walter Hill on St. John.

Walter Hill is the cousin of co-conspirator Angelo Hill, according to the U.S. Attorney's office.

Angelo Hill testified that Walter Hill and Tapia took cocaine to Puerto Rico at least twice.

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 2008-2012, according to the indictments.

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

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