Reality proved more incredible than fiction Thursday during a sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court for three members of a cocaine trafficking organization.
The operation was "monstrous in size," Assistant U.S. Attorney J. Michael Faulkner said in the Augusta federal courthouse Thursday. The defendants in this case put Augusta within arm's reach of the Colombia drug cartels, he said.
Two years ago, an indictment named Caribbean residents Marrissa Torres, 28, Patrick Farrington, 31, and Ivan Williams, 30. On Thursday, U.S. District Chief Judge Dudley H. Bowen Jr. sentenced them to 84 months, 288 months and 210 months in prison, respectively, for their role in the largest drug operation prosecuted in the Augusta area.
"This conspiracy was a major-league importation. It seems almost the product of fiction rather than reality, the sort of thing that would make a good book," Judge Bowen said.
Local, state, national and international drug investigators worked for nearly a decade on the case and continue to work toward reaching the Colombian cocaine suppliers, U.S. Customs Agent Larry Sapp testified Thursday. James S. Springette, who is said to be the ringleader of the operation, is now said to be one of those targets. He and co-defendant Francis Moulan, last known to live in the Caribbean, are still fugitives.
"What we understand now is that Mr. Springette does his own supplying (from Colombia)," Agent Sapp testified Thursday.
The investigation led agents to believe that during the 1990s Mr. Springette's operation moved tons of cocaine into the United States, including Richmond and Columbia counties, and involved murders; millions of dollars; a shootout with police that left a British Virgin Island police officer seriously injured; a prison break freeing two Colombian residents; bribes; and murder contracts on witnesses.
On Thursday, Chief Inspector Alwin James of the Royal British Virgin Islands Police Department described what happened about 4 a.m. June 19, 1996, in a police roadblock.
"As we alighted from the vehicles ... all hell broke loose; automatic gunfire broke out," Chief Inspector James said. When the fighting ended, the suspects escaped, leaving behind his superior officer in a pool of blood, 1,262 kilograms of cocaine and several assault weapons.
Kevin Blyden, 40, testified Thursday he was among the suspects who got away. Hetestified he was a veteran of numerous transport operations at that time. He made $3,000 for being a lookout in his first "drop," and later made as much as $10,000 to unload the boats bringing in the cocaine bales, he testified. He also worked as a courier, transporting cash in amounts ranging from $200,000 to $1 million, he testified. Mr. Blyden is scheduled to be sentenced today in U.S. District Court.
Mr. Farrington eventually admitted to serving as a courier, but his major role was navigating the boats that went out in the Caribbean seas to pick up the cocaine bales thrown from airplanes, FBI Special Agent Mike Varacalli testified. It took a few interviews with investigators before Mr. Farrington admitted to taking part in 30 such drops.
Under cross-examination, Agent Varacalli agreed that Mr. Farrington had a legitimate fear for his safety. Agents learned that one member of the operation said to be an informant was found dead, two bullet wounds to the head and his body covered with lime.
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