New York drug trial against 3 St. Croix men goes to jury


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ST. CROIX - Jurors are expected to begin deliberations today in the District Court of the Southern District of New York in the case against three St. Croix natives who were charged in a drug conspiracy case last spring.

The case against businessman Gary Thomas, of William's Delight; and Kirk Tang Yuk and Felix Parilla, who both live in Florida but are from St. Croix and still have ties to the island, began July 7 before District Judge Alison Nathan.

Jurors heard a week and a half of testimony from prosecution and defense witnesses, and both sides rested their cases on Tuesday. Following the closing arguments that began early Wednesday, Nathan delivered her final instructions before court was recessed for the day.

New York attorney Dale Lionel Smith and St. Croix attorney Kye Walker are on Thomas' defense team, while Felix is represented by attorney Gregory Watts, and Tang Yuk is represented by attorney Christopher Conniff.

According to the grand jury indictment, the men each possessed cocaine during the conspiracy window, which prosecutors said lasted from September 2012 until April 2013.

The charging document states that the men acted, conspired and agreed with each other and other people to violate the law with the furtherance of the conspiracy.

The indictment states that on Sept. 12, 2012, Gary Thomas and an individual who is only being described by police as a cooperating conspirator, packaged 80 kilograms of cocaine at Thomas' place of business at Paradise Waste Systems Inc. in Castle Coakley on St. Croix and that the packages containing the drugs were shipped to Florida.

On Sept. 17, 2012, the confidential conspirator was in Florida and accepted the delivery of the container of drugs, and on Sept. 19, 2012, the conspirator delivered more than half of the drugs to Parilla and another portion to Tang Yuk that same day, according to police.

The indictment said that on Sept. 22, 2012, the confidential conspirator was observed in the Southern District of New York with 25 kilograms of the 80 kilograms that were packaged on St. Croix and that he had more than $25,000 in his possession in Miami when federal agents made contact with him.

As a part of the court documents, if the men are convicted, the United States government is seeking to force the forfeiture of any property that the men possess that is connected with the conspiracy to possess and distribute the cocaine.

Parilla and Tang Yuk were arrested in Florida and remain jailed pending the outcome of the trial. Thomas was arrested on St. Croix at his trucking business. He was released after posting property to satisfy his bail and was placed in the custody of two third-party custodians.

Nathan denied a renewed motion on behalf of Thomas that asked the court to transfer the trial to St. Croix. The motion for the change of venue initially was filed in February by Thomas and Tang Yuk but subsequently was denied after Nathan determined that the sole reason for seeking the transfer was convenience, and she ruled that was not reason enough.

Thomas renewed the motion primarily on the grounds that he will be prejudiced because the jury is not familiar with the Crucian dialect and additionally because attorneys say none of the crimes were committed in the Southern District of New York.

According to the renewed motion, special circumstances concerning the audio recordings and the transcripts associated with those recordings, as well as the lack of venue in the Southern District of New York, require transfer of the case to St. Croix.

The motion states that law enforcement officers conducted a wiretap investigation targeting the defendants that intercepted a large volume of phone calls and other communications that may be intended to be presented to the jury, but the person used as a patois expert for purposes of interpreting the Crucian dialect and presenting those interpretations to the jury is herself not familiar with the Crucian dialect, as she is from Jamaica and specializes in a heavily accented English patois. Thomas' attorneys said he is not Jamaican nor does he speak patois.

In their final instructions, defense attorneys specifically asked jurors to pay close attention to where the prosecution claims the crimes occurred.

- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email fstokes@dailynews.vi.

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