Two men plead guilty to attempting to sell cocaine to undercover DEA agent


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ST. THOMAS - Two of the three defendants in a drug trafficking case pleaded guilty in District Court on Wednesday.

All three defendants, Ignacio Batis-Joseph, Omar James-Byar and Eldry Santos-Guzman, initially were scheduled to stand trial last week, but Batis-Joseph and James-Byar decided to sign plea agreements with the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Santos-Guzman is set to stand trial Monday, though his attorney, Carl Williams, said that the U.S. Attorney's Office is reviewing a revised edition of a plea agreement that the office initially wrote. Unless the office accepts the current revised edition, Santos-Guzman will not sign the plea agreement, Williams said.

The case status for a fourth defendant, Miguel Arias-Ramirez, is unknown, as the case has been sealed. Arias-Ramirez was the only U.S. citizen of the four defendants, all of whom were charged with conspiracy to possess more than 5 kilograms of cocaine with intent to distribute.

Arias-Ramirez claimed to be the stepson of the man, Miguel Bautista, who allegedly owned the cocaine that the four men were attempting to distribute. Court records do not indicate whether Bautista has been located and charged.

Batis-Joseph and James-Byar essentially signed the same plea agreements, each pleading guilty to count one of the original indictment, conspiracy to possess more than 5 kilograms of cocaine with intent to distribute.

The maximum penalties include imprisonment for not less than 10 years, and no more than life, and a fine of not more than $100 million. The estimated worth of the cocaine that the defendants are accused of trying to distribute was more than $1 million.

Batis-Joseph is represented by Gabrial Villegas, and James-Byar is represented by Darren John-Baptiste.

All four men were arrested after an undercover sting, in which a Drug Enforcement Agency agent in Puerto Rico contacted the St. Thomas DEA office after receiving information from a cooperating defendant about a smuggling operation on St. Thomas.

An undercover agent met with Batis-Joseph, also known as "Papo," in mid-July, and Batis-Joseph said he had "connections with several significant South American and Caribbean drug trafficking organizations that traffic cocaine," according to court documents.

Through numerous other phone conversations with Batis-Joseph, the undercover agent set up the purchase and transport of multi-kilogram quantities of cocaine, according to court documents.

In August, Batis-Joseph contacted the undercover agent and said that his boss, a Dominican man, had received a shipment of 100 kilograms of cocaine, court documents state.

The agent agreed to travel to St. Thomas to buy the cocaine, first in a block of 10 kilograms, with the other 90 to follow in a separate transaction, according to a probable cause affidavit. The agent then met with Batis-Joseph, James-Byar and Santos-Guzman at Crown Bay Marina, and the three men produced 11.16 kilograms of cocaine, the affidavit states, and the men were immediately taken into custody.

Once they were arrested, the three men told DEA agents that Bautista owned the cocaine and that he had about 80 kilograms stashed on the third floor of a building on Kronprindsens Gade.

Agents executed a search warrant at the apartment that the men referred to on Sept. 11 and found 64 bricks containing 72.6 kilograms of cocaine.

Agents arrested Arias-Ramirez after he left the apartment of a woman several doors down from the apartment in question.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.

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