The V.I. Police sergeant arrested in connection with a drug trafficking enterprise allegedly involving Planning and Natural Resources official Roberto Tapia was granted $250,000 bail during his recent detention hearing in V.I. District Court and will also remain on home confinement pending trial.
Tapia was arrested two weeks ago, followed by alleged co-conspirators Stephen Torres and Eddie Lopez-Lopez. A warrant for Sgt. Angelo Hill’s arrest was executed on Friday, and he was picked up by federal agents later that day. According to documents filed with the District Court, Hill has been charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and faces a minimum of 10 years in prison if convicted.
District Court Magistrate Court Judge Ruth Miller found probable cause Tuesday to uphold the charge against Hill and arraigned him following his detention hearing on St. Thomas. Documents filed with the court last week ask for Hill to be remanded pending trial, with the U.S. Attorney’s Office describing him as both a flight risk and danger to the community.
Tuesday’s hearing once again focused on testimony from FBI agent Jackson Purkey, who had previously talked about surveillance set up by federal agents to monitor a meeting between Tapia and his alleged co-conspirators. While that surveillance – initiated after the feds had received information from a source that had initially not been revealed – was mostly aerial, Purkey spoke Tuesday about telephone calls intercepted by agents monitoring Tapia’s phone calls.
While on the stand during the last week, Purkey said that information received by feds indicated Tapia would be meeting Torres and Lopez-Lopez at Sail Rock – located approximately three miles off the southwest coast of St. Thomas – on the morning of May 17. Agents watching overhead saw the exchange of a green and black backpack, which Purkey said was believed to contain cash. Tapia boarded a ferry to St. John later that evening and returned with the same bag, this time containing 7.72 kilograms of cocaine.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Purkey said intercepted phone conversations between Tapia and a contact in Puerto Rico triggered the sting on May 17, while other phone calls between the two indicated that Tapia would be traveling later that evening to meet with “Angelo” to pick up the cocaine. Tapia was expected to meet up the next day with Lopez-Lopez to conclude the deal, but Tapia was arrested at the Red Hook ferry dock when he returned the night before, according to court documents.
Purkey also spoke about another phone call between Tapia and Hill, in which Tapia spoke about coming to St. John to “pick up seven girls.”
“Defendant responded that they would be available,” Miller wrote in her affidavit after Hill’s detention hearing. “Agents believed the reference to ‘girls’ was kilograms of cocaine.”
Purkey also spoke about Tapia’s visit to St. John, and said that the two spoke again once Tapia came off the ferry.
“When he arrived on St. John, Tapia sat on a bench and called defendant (Hill) to advise him of his location,” Miller’s affidavit says. Agents monitoring the scene saw a VIPD vehicle in the area, which was issued to Hill, who told Tapia during another phone call to walk toward the FirstBank nearby. Agents lost sight of Tapia soon after, but later saw Hill’s car at a nearby intersection.
Another phone call made afterwards by Tapia to his contact in Puerto Rico allegedly indicated that Tapia had received the drugs, had “received it from Angelo,” had tested it, and found that it was “of good quality,” according to Purkey’s testimony. Tapia then returned to St. Thomas and was seen carrying the same green and black bag, which Purkey said appeared “heavier” and full.
Miller’s affidavit says that there was enough probable cause to arraign Hill on the possession with intent to distribute charge and ordered that Hill be released only after posting cash or property in the amount of $250,000. Hill’s mother Elaine has signed court documents indicated that she would be willing to put up her property, worth $560,700, as collateral for bail.
As a condition of his release, Miller said Hill will be electronically monitored, be confined to the house he shares with his mother, will surrender his passport and other travel documents and cannot carry a cell phone or contact any potential witnesses in the case.
Hill has also been suspended from his VIPD job without pay pending the outcome of the investigation against him.