St. Croix man arrested after feds seize boat with $1.8M of pot onboard off Puerto Rico


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ST. CROIX - Two men, one a resident of St. Croix and another from Jamaica, will make their second court appearance in Magistrate Court on Puerto Rico this afternoon. Both men were arrested by agents of a joint federal agency task force that seized a go-fast vessel and 30 bales of marijuana valued at $1.8 million during an at-sea interdiction.

Nazeem Javed Omarr Forde, of St. Croix, and Ezra Powell, a Jamaican national, made their initial court appearance before Federal Magistrate Judge Camille Velez-Rive on Puerto Rico on Monday. They were advised of their rights on charges of possession with intent to distribute marijuana onboard a vessel and aiding and abetting each other in failure to stop for law enforcement.

When the men appeared in court Monday, prosecutors moved to have them temporarily detained pending a detention hearing that has been scheduled for 3:30 p.m. today in courtroom 11 in San Juan's Federal Magistrate Court.

Both men have been appointed counsel by the court, with Powell having attorney Ignacio Fernandez deLahongrais representing him and Forde being represented by attorney Joseph Boucher Martinez.

The arrests came early Sunday morning, after the men were detected during routine patrol, following investigation by agents working with the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations unit.

According to an affidavit filed by Homeland Security Investigations special agent Juan Mendez, the two men were spotted by federal agents about 1 a.m. Sunday morning aboard a 30-foot center console go-fast boat about 50 mile south of Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico, a known drug trafficking area. He said the boat, with 225 horse-power onboard engines, was registered in St. Croix.

Coast Guard Sector San Juan Watchstander was notified by the crew of the Customs and Boarder Protection aircraft that saw the vessel travelling east, according to Mendez's affidavit. The Coast Guard sent the cutter Reliance and the cutter Farallon to interdict the suspect vessel.

The Reliance arrived on-scene and launched a small boat with team members aboard to try to stop the go-fast boat, but the persons on board ignored the warnings and orders to stop despite police blue lights and sirens from the law enforcement boat.

Once the suspected smugglers stopped - about 20 minutes later - the crew boarded their vessel, detaining Powell and Forde on board and seizing the 30 bales of marijuana, according to the affidavit.

Mendez said the two men said the vessel had left St. Croix on Saturday and was heading back to St. Croix at the time it was stopped. An initial search revealed the bales of contraband that contained bricks of the drug, contained in the forward compartment of the vessel, Mendez said.

According to Mendez, Forde confirmed that the substance was marijuana and a sample testing of the suspected drug came back positive that it was marijuana, according to the court documents.

Coast Guard Spokesman Ricardo Castrodad said in a statement issued Wednesday that the federal law enforcement authorities were working in support of the Caribbean Border Interagency Group's Operation Caribbean Guard and the interdicted illegal drug shipment totaled 750 pounds and was estimated to have a street value of $1.8 million.

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

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