3 plead guilty to smuggling cocaine on commercial airlines

NEWARK, N.J. - Mervin Francis, 34, of St. Lucia, West Indies, Genard Howard, 35, and Tajara Barnes, 34, both of Brooklyn, N.Y., plead guilty April 27, before U. S. District Judge Dennis M. Cavanaugh to separate, superseding information charging them with conspiracy to import and export cocaine aboard commercial airlines. Guilty pleas were announce by U. S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman.

Court documentation states that Francis admitted he was part of an organization that transported narcotics from Jamaica and St. Lucia, through the United States to Great Britain, around February and September 2008.

Barnes and Howard admitted to traveling from the United States to St. Lucia on April 24, 2008, to smuggle drugs on May 1, 2008. They received narcotics from Francis and other individuals in St. Lucia and later used commercial airlines to travel from New York to London with drugs hidden in the luggage handrails on May 5, 2008. Once the narcotics were received in Great Britain, Francis received payment from the organization via Western Union transfers.

Howard and Barnes were freed on $100,000 bail and Francis was detained pending their sentencing on August 8. They each face 5 years to a maximum of 40 years in prison and a fine up to $2 million. Judge Cavanaugh will consult the advisory U.S. sentencing guidelines, for sentencing ranges, based on the severity and characteristics of the offense, criminal history, if any, and other factors, although he is not bound by those guidelines to determine their sentence.

The guilty pleas stem from a multi-jurisdictional and international investigation into a drug trafficking ring, resulting in multiple drug seizures and charging 14 individuals, in which 10 plead guilty in the District of New Jersey. Roger Folkes, aka Kirk and Romeo Folkes, aka Rocky are in custody in Jamaica pending extradition to United States. Defendant Prine George Alfonso Jones, aka Prince is in custody in Great Britain. David Evans is charged in a pending separate complaint.

"The movement of illegal drugs through our seaports and ports of entry will not be tolerated and ICE will use all our investigative resources to stop this type of activity, regardless of whether it is carried out by air, land or sea," said Peter T. Edge, special agent in charge of the New Jersey ICE Office of Investigations.

Fishman credited special agents of ICE, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Peter T. Edge; and the Drug Enforcement Administration under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Gerard P. McAleer in Newark, in coordination with the West Midlands Police Complex Casework Unit in Birmingham, England and officers of the United Kingdom Border Agency for the investigation leading to the indictment and guilty pleas.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U. S. Attorneys Eric W. Moran and Zahid N. Quraishi of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Newark.

As for the defendants with pending cases, the charges and allegations against them are merely accusations, and they are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.