A man from the Dominican Republic has been sentenced in V.I. District Court to more than eight years in prison, U.S. Attorney Delia Smith announced Tuesday.
Joan Morales Nolasco, 37, of the Dominican Republic, was sentenced to 101 months imprisonment. He pleaded guilty to cocaine conspiracy and possession of firearms in furtherance of a drug conspiracy in March.
According to court documents and evidence presented at co-defendant Samuel Pena
Columna’s trial, on Sept. 25, 2019, Nolasco was involved in a shootout with several U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Interdiction agents. That evening, Nolasco and three co-conspirators were driven by Pena Columna to Haulover Bay, a well-known drug smuggling area on the east end of St. John, with more than $1.1 million to conduct a buy of 100 kilograms of cocaine with traffickers from Tortola, BVI, the documents state.
After arriving at the trail in Haulover Bay, Nolasco and co-defendant Rammer Guerrero-Morales headed down the trail. Nolasco was armed with a long gun, and Guerrero-Morales was armed with a handgun, according to court documents. After confirming that the trail was clear, Nolasco and Guerrero-Morales had planned to signal for the other co-conspirators waiting in Pena Columna’s vehicle to bring the $1.1 million in cash down the trail to complete the drug transaction while Pena Columna waited in his vehicle.
Trial evidence further revealed that, on their way down to the trail, Nolasco and Guerrero-
Morales encountered two CBP agents who immediately announced themselves as police. The agents were fired upon by Guerrero-Morales and a shootout ensued, leaving one agent with gunshot wounds to his shoulder and leg. The agents returned fire hitting Guerrero-Morales in his leg, which was later amputated due to the severity of his injury.
During the shootout, Nolasco fled the scene and ultimately made his way to the Dominican Republic, according to court documents. He was later extradited back to the territory for prosecution. Pena Columna and the two remaining co-conspirators also fled the scene. Pena Columna, a paid confidential source conducting his own drug trafficking organization, later told federal agents that he took the two men, along with the $1.1 million, near the Cruz Bay area where they escaped.
Guerrero-Morales pleaded guilty in March and is scheduled for sentencing on Dec. 21. Pena Columna was convicted by a federal jury in September, and his sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 19.
Editor’s Note: The U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecuted this case. A previous version of this story attributed the case to the V.I. Attorney General’s Office.