Feds investigate US-Cayman firearms smuggling ring
12 December, 2011
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United States federal law enforcement authorities are investigating a firearms smuggling operation between south Florida and Grand Cayman that’s been ongoing since at least 2008, according to US District Court records obtained by the Caymanian Compass.
The investigation, a branch of which led to the 2009 arrest, conviction and incarceration of four local men in US federal prison, caught up with a fifth suspect, Mikkyle Brandon Leslie – known in Cayman as Brandon Leslie Ebanks – when US Marshals arrested him at Miami International Airport on Tuesday.
Leslie, also known by the nickname ‘Kalishnikov’ according to a criminal complaint filed against him by the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on Wednesday, is accused of breaching two sections of the United States criminal code by allegedly transporting firearms through a carrier without notice and alleged illegal exportation of firearms. The accusations against the 25-year-old Caymanian are made in a probable cause affidavit attached to the criminal complaint filed by US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent Jennifer DeVito. He has not been formally indicted.
Federal court records indicate Leslie is set for a detention hearing in Fort Lauderdale, Florida today.
According to the probable cause affidavit filed in the US District Court, Southern District of Florida: “Mikkyle Leslie, aka Brandon Ebanks, aka Brandon Leslie, aka Kalishnikov, has been identified as the purchaser of at least nine firearms in the Broward and Miami-Dade County area and was the purchaser of a refrigerator shipped from Port Everglades, Broward County Florida and seized in Grand Cayman on 13 November, 2008.
“At the time of the seizure of the refrigerator, the refrigerator was found to contain approximately five semi-automatic pistols, one of which had an obliterated serial number, approximately 800 rounds of ammunition in various calibres and firearm magazines.”
The infamous ‘guns-in-fridge’ court case here in the Cayman Islands led to the conviction of Michael Timothy Ebanks on importation of firearms charges. Ebanks is serving a five-year prison sentence.
The criminal complaint filed Wednesday in US District Court reveals ATF agents believe a number of other individuals were involved in the 2008 firearms import-export incident. The affidavit does not amount to criminal charges against those named individuals; it was filed with the court to establish probable cause to arrest Brandon Leslie Ebanks on Tuesday.
However, statements made in the document indicate the named individuals – several of whom are Caymanians – “were identified as participants in the firearms smuggling activities”.
For legal reasons, not all of the individuals named in the probable cause affidavit have been identified in this article. However, the document is a matter of public record and can be reviewed by anyone.
For clarity, the individuals the newspaper is not identifying will be referred to as ‘named female No. 1’, ‘named male No. 1’ and so on. About a dozen people were identified in the probable cause affidavit as participants in the gun smuggling.
The affidavit continues: “[An individual whose name is being withheld by the Caymanian Compass] advised that he had met with individuals in Miami and Carol City, Florida, including ‘named male No. 3’, ‘named male No. 4’, Brittanio Walton, and Brandon Ebanks aka Mikkyle Leslie. These individuals were involved in purchasing appliances and smuggling firearms from the United States to Grand Cayman.”
“’Named female No. 1’, ‘named female No. 2’ and Michael Ebanks attempted to pick up this refrigerator at Cayman Customs prior to its seizure,” the affidavit read. “The consignee of the refrigerator was ‘named female No. 1’. [The individual who spoke with investigators] stated that Robert Terry arranged for the use of ‘named female No. 1’ as the consignee because her family name was respected on the Island and they would be less likely to suspect her of anything. “’Named male No. 1’ drove Michael Ebanks to the Cayman port to the pick up the refrigerator. ‘Named female No. 2’ and ‘named male No. 2’ attempted to pick up the refrigerator before Michael Ebanks was arrested, but could not pick it up because ‘named female No. 2’ did not have proper identification at the time.” The refrigerator used to ship the guns in November 2008 was purchased in October 2008 in Miami, according to receipts obtained by federal investigators. The purchase, according to those records, was made by a ‘Jason Jenkins’.
“Surveillance video from Thompson Shipping on November 4, 2008 shows that Mikkyle [Brandon] Leslie ... was present [at] Thompson Shipping [in Florida] during the shipment of the refrigerator. The surveillance video also shows Mikkyle Leslie ... completing the shipping ticket which was filled out in the name of Jason Jenkins and signing the form in the name of Jason Jenkins,” the criminal complaint read. CCTV video from the ‘Brandsmart USA’ store shows Leslie was at the store on 16 October, 2008 when the refrigerator used to ship the five guns to Grand Cayman was purchased, according to federal court records.
“The Brandsmart surveillance video shows Michael Timothy Ebanks, Mikkyle Leslie ... and two other males involved in the purchase of the refrigerator,” the criminal complaint continues. “Surveillance video shows that the refrigerator was loaded into a red pickup truck owned by Anthony Mitchell Brown [the individual identified earlier in the court records is Mitchell Anthony Brown – but officials confirmed it is the same person].” According to the probable cause affidavit, DNA testing done on firearms recovered from the refrigerator once it was seized on Grand Cayman “could not eliminate” Leslie as a contributor to the DNA sample.
US ATF investigators’ statements in the criminal complaint filed Wednesday were corroborated by another individual who was arrested in 2009 in a separate attempt to smuggle firearms from south Florida to Grand Cayman.
That individual gave statements detailing the purchase at the Miami ‘Brandsmart USA’ store of the refrigerator used to ship the guns in November 2008 and indicated the fridge was “used to conceal firearms that were shipped to Grand Cayman”. The 2009 case, which was previously reported by the Caymanian Compass, led to federal prison sentences for three men on charges related to gun smuggling and a fourth man on weapons’ possession charges.
According to federal court records, David Gilbert Lyons, Mitchell Anthony Brown, and Brittanio Jermie Walton each were initially charged with five counts in an indictment alleging they conspired to ship firearms, attempted to export firearms, delivered firearms to a common carrier without notice, attempted to ship firearms with obliterated serial numbers, and possessed firearms with serial numbers obliterated. Federal court records indicated Lyons travelled from Grand Cayman to Miami on 2 April, 2009 to meet up with Walton and Brown.
On 10 April, the charge alleges the three drove to Pennsylvania to obtain firearms and returned to Miami about four days later. Attempting to cover up what they were shipping, the federal court indictment alleges the three men went to a Home Depot store in Hialeah, Florida to buy light fixtures, ceiling fans, a hedge trimmer, and a window air conditioning unit.
Two days later, court records charge that seven boxes containing the items bought at Home Depot were delivered to a freight forwarder in Port Everglades, Broward County, Florida, where the weapons were discovered.
Lyons received a 57-month prison sentence; Brown received a 37-month prison sentence; and Walton received a 51-month prison sentence following guilty pleas to certain charges.
Lyons and Brown both pleaded guilty to conspiring to deliver firearms to a common carrier without notice and to smuggle firearms from the US. Both also pleaded guilty to an additional charge of attempting to smuggle firearms from the US. Walton pleaded guilty to conspiring to deliver firearms to a common carrier, and to attempting to smuggle firearms from the US. Walton also pleaded to previous charges from 2006 and 2008 of knowingly making false statements in an immigration application.
In a separate indictment, Marvin Matthew Watson was charged with possessing a firearm in the US ‘which had been transported in interstate or foreign commerce’ in violation of US law. Watson pleaded guilty in the case in late 2009.
The ATF agent’s probable cause affidavit filed in connection with the ‘guns-in-fridge’ case from November 2008 alleges both Mitchell Anthony Brown and Brittanio Walton were linked to that incident, as well as the 2009 firearms export investigation. As far as the Compass is aware, neither man was charged over the roles ATF agents said they played in the November 2008 guns shipment to Grand Cayman.
Shots fired at judge’s house
The affidavit filed with the criminal complaint made in US District Court Wednesday also makes reference to a third firearms investigation in Grand Cayman. The document states on 1 February of this year, Cayman Islands police seized a 9mm Glock pistol from Robert Terry, who was later charged in connection with the case.
According to local court records, Robert Lewis Terry was charged in the 1 February incident, which occurred outside the Caribbean Club resort, with aggravated criminal trespass and possession of an unlicensed firearm. The weapon was found to have an obliterated serial number, according to the ATF. However, a forensic restoration of that serial number was able to retrieve five of the six characters emblazoned on the gun.
ATF investigators said they traced the pistol through purchase records and found the Glock model 19, 9mm semi-automatic handgun had been purchased on 21 December, 2008 at Big Al’s Gun and Pawn in Pembroke Pines, Florida. The first five digits of the weapon recovered from Terry on 1 February matched the first five digits of the weapon sold on that date by Big Al’s, ATF investigators said. The purchaser of the gun was identified in US court records as Mikkyle Brandon Leslie.
“The [Glock model 19, 9mm semi-automatic handgun] was later connected to a shooting at the home of a chief magistrate judge in the Cayman Islands through firearm casings recovered at the scene of the shooting,” the ATF’s criminal complaint read.
Shots were fired at the home of former Cayman Islands Chief Magistrate Margaret Ramsay-Hale in August 2009, according to the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service. No one was hurt in the shooting, which occurred around 1am and it was never made clear from police reports if the judge herself or someone else believed to be in the house was the intended target of the gunfire. Ms Ramsay-Hale left the Cayman Islands earlier this year to take a promotion to the Grand Court bench in the Turks and Caicos Islands. No arrests have been reported by local police in connection with the shooting outside the judge’s home. Terry was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment Friday in the unlicensed firearm case.