The top federal prosecutor in the U.S. Virgin Islands is asking for restrictions on who can view evidence related to the prosecution of 11 individuals charged with racketeering.
U.S. Attorney Gretchen Shappert wants the court to grant a protective order to guard discovery materials to be shared with lawyers representing the alleged conspirators.
Defendants Paul Girard, Shaquan Prentice, Robert Brown, Wahilli James, Shaquille Correa, James Cruz, Kareem Harry, Tyler Eugene, Etherneal Simon, Wayne Bellille were indicted earlier this year as members of a criminal enterprise.
They were charged together in a superseding indictment filed in St. Thomas District Court Jan. 17.
Together they face several charges, including murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, assault, extortion, conspiracy to commit drug trafficking, carjacking and weapons possession.
In her motion, Shappert said materials used to prepare the case against the defendants must be protected to ensure the safety of others.
“The discovery provided in this case includes sensitive information. The unrestricted dissemination of that sensitive information could adversely affect the privacy and safety interests of third parties, as well as law enforcement interests,” the U.S. attorney said.
To emphasize the gravity of that message, Shappert pointed out that eight of 11 defendants in the case are charged with either murder or attempted murder. Prosecutors said murder was used as a tool by the Girard Criminal Enterprise to establish their drug trafficking territory and take over the territory of others.
Alleged co-conspirators also used deadly force to intimidate and silence those who might try to oppose them.
Protection of the court is also being sought for cooperating witnesses, for non-indicted third parties and for those who are the subjects of other criminal investigations.
The court may grant a protective order if petitioners can satisfy a provision in the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure by presenting a good cause to deny, restrict or defer discovery.
In the period after defendants are charged and ahead of the scheduled trial, legal teams prepare their cases using a discovery process. The Federal Rules of Evidence say documents, depositions, property and transcripts of testimony given in pre-trial hearings can be gathered in discovery. Opposing parties can also force the other legal team to turn over things they collected during their own discovery process.
The matter is currently in the hands of a federal magistrate, but proceedings will be turned over to the judge assigned to the case. On Monday, District Judge Curtis Gomez, the judge assigned to this particular case, cancelled an omnibus hearing that had been scheduled for April 22.