Jerry Kirkland-Marrero, a 30-year-old from Puerto Rico, pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal District Court on St. Thomas to conspiracy to conceal more than $100,000 onboard a vessel outfitted for smuggling. He had been accused of attempting to smuggle $3.75 million, according to a news release issued by U.S. Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert.
According to court documents, a unit of the Air and Marine Operations of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection was patrolling near Brewers Bay, St. Thomas, on April 21, 2020, when, at about 8:40 p.m., interdiction agents spotted a vessel entering the area without its lights illuminated. As the agency units initiated a stop of the vessel, agents reported seeing occupants of the vessel throwing duffle bags overboard. Once onboard, the agents identified the vessel’s three occupants, including Kirkland-Marrero.
The agents recovered three duffel bags from the water, as well as a fourth bag that one of the occupants had been in the process of trying to throw overboard when the agents boarded the vessel.
Each of the duffel bags contained vacuum-sealed bundles of U.S. currency, with a combined total value of approximately $3.7 million, agents said. A GPS tracker was also recovered from one of the duffel bags. The 22-foot vessel, the report said, was outfitted for smuggling in that it was operating after sunset without its lights and had five auxiliary gas tanks. The report also said its hull identification number plate had been removed and it bore the same Puerto Rican registration number as another boat of a similar size.
Kirkland-Marrero faces a maximum term of 15 years in prison. A federal District Court judge will determine the sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors, according to Shappert.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations are investigating the case.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Meredith J. Edwards is prosecuting the case, which is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force operation. The task force aims to identify, disrupt and dismantle the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach.