2 TT nationals jailed in the US in gun-ring case

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Judge Steven D Merryday –

Two Trinidadians who on April 11 pleaded guilty when charged with conspiring to smuggle guns and ammunition-related goods from Florida to TT, have each been sentenced to four years and nine months in federal prison in the US in addition to three years of supervised release.

On Friday, a statement from the US Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida said District Judge Steven D Merryday sentenced Tevin O’Brian Oliver, 30, who lives in Homestead, and Jameal Kaia Phillip, of TT.

The defendants also agreed to forfeit various guns, ammunition, and related items which facilitated the offenses.

Based on their plea agreements and factual bases, Oliver and Phillip were part of a ring that unlawfully exported guns, gun components (including upper/lower receivers and gun parts kits), and related items from Florida to TT between 2019 and 2022.

The statement said the guns, including pistols, long rifles, and related equipment, were concealed within boxing/fight equipment, speakers, and other household items to avoid detection by law enforcement and customs authorities.

Conspirators also acquired guns from different sellers through straw purchases, falsely representing the identities of the actual purchasers and recipients of the guns, as well as their ultimate destination.

On or about April 7, 2021, Oliver shipped a package concealing and containing various firearms and related equipment, including a Taurus G2C 9mm pistol, a SAR Arms SAR-9 9mm pistol, a Taurus G3 9mm pistol, and a Ruger Security-9 9mm pistol, from Miami, Florida to TT.

The statement said authorities in Trinidad seized those guns and other related items that had been concealed in the shipment at Piarco International Airport on or about April 22, 2021.

It quoted Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Tampa Assistant Special Agent in Charge Kristopher Pagitt as saying: “Dismantling this illicit weapons trafficking network makes a significant impact toward lowering crime and gun violence in Trinidad and Tobago, and the Caribbean.”

“These sentences demonstrate the commitment of HSI, alongside our federal and Caribbean nation partners and the US Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida, to be steadfast in investigating and shutting down illegal firearms smuggling from the US.”

Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), including HSI’s Attaché (Caribbean) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, investigated the case with assistance from TT’s Ministry of National Security (Transnational Organised Crime Unit) and TT Police Service (Special Investigations Unit), US Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, US Customs and Border Protection and the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs.

Assistant US attorneys Risha Asokan and Cherie Krigsman prosecuted.

The statement said the case was part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation.

OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organisations that threaten the US using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach.

Additional information about OCDETF can be found at www.justice.gov/OCDETF.