Shedron Richardson, a 24-year-old British Virgin Islander who admitted trying to smuggle two illegal immigrants into St. John, was sentenced Wednesday to the time he has already served while awaiting the resolution of his case.
After being arrested by interdiction officers from U.S. Customs and Border Protection Oct. 4 with two undocumented Haitian nationals in his rubber dingy, Richardson was sent to jail. By the time he appeared before District Court Judge Curtis Gomez on Wednesday, six months has passed.
Federal Public Defender Kia Sears asked for, and got, a six month sentence for her client. Because Richardson was a first offender with no criminal record, Sears said the time he had already served served should be enough.
Gomez agreed, imposing a term of six months to one year on a single count of bringing in and harboring illegal aliens. With six months served, the defendant could go home.
The judge also ordered Richardson to pay a $100 court fee and told him not to come back. Because he is a British citizen, he can only return to the U.S. with written permission from the head of the Department of Homeland Security or the attorney general of the United States.
The defendant was not the only one to feel the heat. Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Brooks displeased the judge when asked to address a proposed sentencing enhancement. The court asked if the defendant displayed special skills by piloting his vessel in the dark, without running lights. Sears said no. To make the passage from the BVI to St. John didn’t take much skill, the public defender said. She added that in other, recent cases no such request for a sentence enhancement had come up.
Court documents show that in the three most recent cases – Shawn Callwood in June, Richardson on Oct. 4 and Brice Todman on Oct. 21 – authorities noted the defendants were apprehended while running vessels without lights.
Callwood was caught with five illegal immigrants from the Dominican Republic. Todman was caught with four: two from the Dominican Republic, one with dual citizenship between the D.R. and Argentina and one from Venezuela.
Callwood was arrested after evading Homeland Security investigators flashing lights and blaring a siren. He surrendered after agents fired a shot across the bow of his boat.
Asked if the prosecution thought of asking for a sentencing enhancement, Brooks hesitated before saying no.
Gomez said the court would not pursue the enhancement in this case, but there had been other cases of human traffickers caught running vessels from the BVI to St. Thomas where a special skills charge was applied to the sentencing calculation.
“I’m not persuaded by the government’s position or the defenses’ position. The court finds the government’s position wanting,” Gomez said. “The court certainly hopes the government is consistent in its position, based on other positions taken in the past.”
Before he heard his fate, the defendant offered an apology and, through his lawyer, an explanation.
The rent was due in the home he shared with his brother and a friend. The property owner threatened to evict them on Oct. 5. So, on Oct. 4, he attempted to smuggle two Haitian nationals into St. John for $100 apiece.
“He did something he obviously shouldn’t do. But he did it in an attempt to make his family situation better. But he made it worse,” Sears said.