Gunrunner might have walked free if he had been tried in a Jamaican court


Saturday, February 08, 2020

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Weaknesses in Jamaica's laws would have made it difficult, if not impossible, for Jermaine Rhoomes the Jamaican who was sentenced to 57 months in prison in the United States for shipping several guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition to the island to face a similar conviction locally.

But Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Paula Llewellyn will be pushing local lawmakers to make the adjustments to ensure that gun traffickers can be punished here.

“Section 4 of the Firearms Act provides that the importation of firearms and ammunition into Jamaica, without the requisite licence being a breach of the law. However, the Firearms Act does not provide for arms trafficking as an offence. The circumstances surrounding this case would be on all fours with arms trafficking we submit,” Llewellyn told the Jamaica Observer.

“I also understand that the Jamaica Constabulary Force has made recommendations to the competent authorities here for 'a dealing in firearms' provision to be put into the Act, and what we will do is lend support to that, because it is very important.

“If he had come here, the prosecution would have been very difficult. We would have had to ask for extradition for him to be brought to Jamaica, because he is domiciled up there, and it would have been a very difficult prosecution in terms of importing [the firearms and ammunition],” added Llewellyn.

Rhoomes pleaded guilty to firearms trafficking in the United States last year and was sentenced to four years and nine months in a federal prison by the United States District Court of the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division, last week.

After news of the sentence was first reported by the Jamaica Observer several people questioned why the man, described by the DPP in her submission, “as like one of the merchants of death”, was not returned to Jamaica and tried in the local courts.

There have also been questions about the length of the sentence with many critics arguing that his time in prison should have been longer.

But the DPP pointed out that the sentencing guidelines, which were in the plea deal agreed by Rhoomes, were for a period of between 46 and 57 months, if there was no evidence of previous convictions.

If there was evidence of previous convictions in the US, the sentence would have gone up to seven years with the guilty plea, while, had Rhoomes not accepted the plea deal he could have received a sentence of up to 20 years and a fine of up to US$1 million.

Rhoomes, who is reportedly in the US illegally, had been convicted of crimes in the United Kingdom and deported to Jamaica before he made his way to America, but those convictions were not taken into account by the court in his sentencing.

“The judge gave him 57 months, which is the higher end of the scale. The judge, I believe, because of what I said about the impact of illegal weapons on Jamaica, told Rhoomes that among cases of this nature, it was the worst and most egregious that she has seen.

“She told him that he ought to be ashamed of himself, to be shipping guns and ammo to Jamaica knowing the kind of damage it can do,” added Llewellyn.

In further explaining the decision to have Rhoomes tried in the US, the DPP pointed out that with the guns and ammunition that were found at Rhoomes' house in St Petersburg, Florida, waiting for another shipment to Jamaica, it was easier for him to be brought to account for his crimes there.

“I told the judge that people who do what Rhoomes did are like merchants of death and that the gun is the preferred weapon of choice among gangs and violence producers which has a very traumatising effect on the psyche of the country that is a premier tourist destination, and a world leader producing so many great icons in music, sport, and culture.

“I indicated that most of these guns, illegally shipped to Jamaica, are purchased in the US and that there has to be even more collaboration between law enforcement in Jamaica and the US law enforcement authorities to intercept and seize these guns and ammo before they get to Jamaica,” said Llewellyn.

The DPP noted that it was members of Jamaica's Counter Terrorism and Organised Crime Investigation Branch (CTOC) who found the barrels and the guns and ammunition inside the barrels on the wharf hidden under packages of flour, rice, and sugar.

She said CTOC, through scientific means, made the link between Rhoomes and the weapons and enlisted the assistance of US Homeland Security investigators in Florida which led them to find him, search his house, and find the shipment of guns and ammunition being prepared.

“This really showed the excellent collaboration and working relationship between Jamaica's law enforcement and the prosecuting authority in Jamaica and US law enforcement and prosecuting authority,” said the DPP.

Llewellyn noted that as the Designated Central Authority for Mutual Assistance in Jamaica, once the request came to her from the investigators in the US, and after reviewing the material and doing consultations, the decision was made that justice would be served by sending back the guns and ammo found in Jamaica to the US so that Rhoomes could be prosecuted for arms trafficking.

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