A baker’s dozen of foreign criminals began their journey back home April 5, but one of them already reversed course and decided to serve out his term in American prison.
The U.S. District Court in Brunswick received the files of 13 men from the federal Department of Justice, who, because of being foreign nationals and satisfying some conditions of their incarceration — as per the governing international treaty — are able to serve out their terms in their home countries.
One man, Len Bilton, was convicted nearly a year ago in Savannah on a child pornography charge. A retired member of the British Navy and owner of a marine engineering firm based out of Chatham County and Florida, Bilton’s case was already one of the more unusual ones in the Southern District of Georgia. During the case, he obtained pretrial release through a $25,000 cash deposit and the title to an Aston Martin automobile.
For the one count of possession of child pornography, Bilton received a sentence of three years and six months in prison, in addition to monetary penalties.
The other dozen men were all convicted of drug-trafficking offenses. Authorities apprehended Basil Kenrick Johnson and Chuvon Godfrey Roberts about 22 miles south of Cuba in August 2015. Once on board, Coast Guard crews discovered 21 bales of marijuana, four smaller bundles and observed several more that sank. According to court documents, the boat was loaded with well more than a ton of marijuana.
Both Johnson and Roberts are Bahamian, and convicted of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana on board a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. Johnson was also convicted of failure to heave to, a maritime charge related to obstructing federal law enforcement officers. Johnson received a sentence of five years and 10 months, while Roberts’ sentence was a flat five years.
Roberts received his approval Thursday for transfer back to the Bahamas.
Nine of the other men were taken into custody by Coast Guard crews patrolling the Eastern Pacific Ocean while ferrying cocaine north. All are from Ecuador. John Lopez-Mera received 10 years in prison with more than 1,300 pounds of cocaine and Francisco Ortiz-Valencia received five years in prison with more than 1,800 pounds of cocaine.
Pablo Simisterra-Paredes was on a boat with Neris Solis-Delgado with 14 bales of cocaine weighing more than 1,500 pounds. Simisterra-Paredes received a sentence of 10 years in prison and gained approval Thursday to transfer back to Ecuador. Solis-Delgado received a sentence of seven years and six months.
Freddy Chinga-Cevallos also received approval Thursday to return to Ecuador. He is serving a sentence of seven years after being found on a boat with more than 1,500 pounds of cocaine.
Still awaiting approval to go back home are Dario Garcia-Velasquez, Vinicio Munoz-Aranea and Carlos Torres-Solis. Garcia-Velasquez is serving a term of four years after being caught with “seven sacks” of cocaine. Munoz-Aranea received a sentence of 10 years in prison for being found with 25 bales of cocaine. Torres-Solis is serving a sentence of four years and nine months after an arrest on a boat carrying more than 1,800 pounds of cocaine.
Richard Quintanilla was caught in a Drug Enforcement Administration action in Sunrise, Fla., attempting to broker the sale of around 22 pounds of cocaine. Thursday, he signed a form withdrawing his consent to transfer.
Because the D. Ray James Correctional Facility in Folkston is uniquely able to handle foreign nationals, those convicted in drug trafficking operations and tried in Florida are often housed there. Because of jurisdictional issues, when those people want to transfer to their home countries, they have to go through the process in U.S. District Court in Brunswick.