It was a mixed bag for the defense Tuesday, as testimony from a key FBI informant ruled out one of the three officers on trial for corruption, implicated another, and left the third sitting in the courtroom with nothing to do.
The original 33-count indictment against veteran V.I. Police officers Enid Edwards and Francis Brooks was handed down in June and ran the gamut from extortion to kidnapping, including incidences of assault, battery and illegal narcotics distribution. Four separate incidences of drug trafficking, extortion and fraud tacked on in September added 21 counts onto the already loaded docket, which jurors began to consider Monday as the officers’ trial opened in District Court on St. Thomas.
Bill John-Baptiste, a V.I. Port Authority officer, is mentioned in only a few of the counts, and is accused of sexually assaulting and detaining a female taxi driver, who allegedly paid Edwards and Brooks an undisclosed amount of money in exchange for her release.
During the trial’s opening day on Monday, at least an hour was spent verifying the FBI’s involvement in the case, and detailing, through the testimony of agent Michele Neily, how various digital and telephone conversations between Edwards, Brooks and FBI informant Elias Deeb were made.
Those recordings were aired in District Court Tuesday as the trial continued on St. Thomas, with Deeb himself taking the stand after lunch to explain how he allegedly paid Edwards and Brooks $900 to procure a new V.I. driver’s license.
The FBI series of recordings — running from July 22, 2008 to Jan. 8, 2009 — were supposed to lay the foundation for the transaction, which FBI agent Jackson Purkey testified Tuesday was paid for with unmarked bills supplied by the FBI.
Purkey said Deeb began working as an informant for the FBI six years ago and had been paid for supplying information for this case, along with the cases of several convicted drug dealers the prosecution plans to call to the stand later this week.
Purkey said he gave Deeb the first $500 for the license on Dec. 30, 2008 and another $400 on Jan. 8, 2009 to seal the deal with Edwards and Brooks. Deeb produced and handed over the license after the second meeting, Purkey added.
Under cross-examination from Brooks’ defense attorney George Hodge, it was revealed that Deeb had a driver’s license from 2006 that expired in Nov. 2008. Purkey said the FBI didn’t give Deeb the first license, but commissioned the renewal, though he never "physically" saw the transaction go down or the money change hands.
Under further questioning, Purkey added that there was nothing — except for what he had been told by others — to indicate the new license wasn’t a valid, or legal, one.
Defense attorneys set the stage for witness credibility issues during the first day of the trial, and questioned whether the FBI’s recordings were accurate, saying that Deeb’s accent was hard to understand and that background noise cut off parts of the conversation.
Those issues were evident when the tapes started rolling Tuesday, but the prosecution’s case became more challenging when the officers’ faces didn’t appear in a few of the videos.
Edwards is seen in two recordings, where Deeb tells her his license is about to expire, but when talk of payment comes up, it is not clear what the money is going toward.
Instead, Deeb narrated from the stand that he was meeting with Edwards and Brooks to discuss renewing his driver’s license, per Purkey’s orders, and that Edwards was telling him how much it cost when she stipulated $400 or $500.
In one video, Edwards is also seen handing something to Deeb, which is not seen on tape. Deeb testified Tuesday that it was the new license, which he said he needed Edwards and Brooks to renew since his immigration identification had expired.
Under cross-examination from Hodge, however, Deeb said Brooks — who he described as a "good friend" — was not involved in any transactions dealing with the license, but was a point of contact when Deeb needed to get a hold of Edwards.
"You only called Brooks to reach Edwards because they worked together?" Hodge asked Deeb Tuesday.
"Yes," Deeb responded.
As the day’s testimony went on, John-Baptiste and his attorney, Robert King Sr., spent the day in relative silence, since none of the conversation related to them.
Chief District Court Judge Curtis Gomez recessed before Edwards’ attorney Jay Shreenath got his chance to cross-examine Deeb.
The trial is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday.