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HomeNewsLocal newsCourt Briefs: Jury Selection Canceled and Chinese National Faces Deportation

Court Briefs: Jury Selection Canceled and Chinese National Faces Deportation

Defendants arrested by federal Customs authorities on St. Thomas pleaded guilty in District Court on Tuesday. (Source file photo)

Jury selection for the trial of three men arrested during a 2021 drug interdiction was supposed to take place Monday in District Court. The panel selection was instead canceled and replaced with hearings where all defendants pleaded guilty.

Chief District Court Judge Robert Molloy accepted guilty pleas from Johny Aris Rodriguez and Gerald Albert Cruz and ordered them to return to his courtroom for sentencing on Feb. 8, 2024. The defendants admitted to possessing cocaine while onboard a vessel.

Court records describe the marine interdiction by agents of Customs and Border Protection – Air and Marine Operations on Dec. 29, 2021. In that account, agents said they encountered a vessel operating at night without lights near St. Thomas’ North Side.

Agents said they saw two individuals — later identified as Rodriguez and Cruz — hauling parcels overboard during a high-speed sea chase. The chase ended with authorities disabling the boat’s engine with gunshots and arresting the occupants.

The jettisoned parcels were recovered and sent to the DEA lab for testing. Technicians said 750 kilograms of cocaine were inside the parcels tossed overboard.

Earlier on Monday, Pedro Ramos-Ramierez — the pilot of the boat — pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Ruth Miller to the same charge. No sentencing date has been set yet for Ramierez.

Also on St. Thomas, a Chinese national faces possible deportation after he was apprehended, along with two others, at the Cyril E. King Airport in August. On Tuesday, defendant Xiaoling Li admitted he illegally entered the United States by boat in July after making the trip from Suriname.

U.S. Magistrate Ruth Miller accepted Li’s guilty plea and advised him that he faced the chance of being sent back home to China. With help from a Mandarin interpreter, Li said he understood and asked to be sentenced that day.

The defendant also accepted Miller’s invitation to address the court before sentencing.

“The reason I decided to come to the U.S. was because I was persecuted by the Chinese government and by the Chinese police force,” Li said, explaining that he felt his mistreatment stemmed from his religious practice.

Li did not say what faith he followed.

He was sentenced to time served in detention and ordered to pay a special assessment fee. If immigration authorities decide to deport him, Miller said, he may not re-enter the U.S. without written permission from the Secretary of State.

Li was arrested Aug. 3, along with two other men, after trying to board a flight from King Airport. When the trio presented themselves to Customs and Border Protection agents, they were sent to another area for a secondary inspection and taken into custody.

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