US prosecutors rev up for coke trial against Guyanese cash-jet pilot
A Guyana-born New Jersey-based pilot who landed himself in deep trouble after authorities found more than half of a million in US dollars on board his private jet is set for trial in May on two cocaine-related charges.
Khamraj Lall’s legal woes, which spanned three US jurisdictions and Guyana, is now entering its third year.
Last week, a New York court set the jury trial date as May 1st, 2017.
It will be recalled that in July 2015, Lall was arrested in New Jersey and was accused by prosecutors of conspiring to bring five kilos of cocaine aboard his plane from Guyana to the US, even while he was facing a court in Puerto Rico for cash smuggling charges.
Shortly before those cocaine charges, the businessman who is well known in Guyana, had pleaded guilty to cash smuggling charges in a deal with US prosecutors and was out on bail awaiting sentencing.
It was announced that a federal grand jury returned a two-count indictment charging Lall, of New Jersey, with possession with intent to distribute, and to distribute, five kilograms or more of cocaine and importation of five kilograms or more of cocaine into the United States.
The charges carry a minimum penalty of 10 years in prison, a maximum of life and a US$10,000,000 fine.
Assistant United States Attorney Robert Marangola, who is handling the case, stated that according to the indictment, between December 2013 and February 10, 2015, the defendant conspired to possess and import from Guyana into the United States, five kilograms or more of cocaine.
Lall is accused of transporting the cocaine on his flights from Guyana to the United States.
Following his arrest in New Jersey, he made an initial appearance in federal court in the District of New Jersey and was detained.
Lall’s arrest was connected to that of nine other defendants in February 2015.
Edward Mighty, Seymour Brown, Andre Taylor, Ricardo Bailey, Robert Wilson, Kenneth Harper, Desmond Bice and Christopher Samuels, all of Rochester, New York, were charged by criminal complaint with conspiracy to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine and 280 grams or more of cocaine base. They were accused of using a telephone to facilitate drug trafficking.
Defendants Mighty, Brown, Taylor, Wilson, Harper, Bice, and Samuels were also charged with possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime and conspiracy to possess firearms in furtherance of drug trafficking.
According to the complaint, Mighty is one of the leaders of a Rochester-based drug trafficking organization and would obtain kilogram quantities of cocaine from Winifredo Gonzales.
The cocaine was transported to Rochester and processed, re-packaged, and distributed in various quantities of both powder and crack cocaine through multiple sellers in the Rochester area.
On February 10, 2015, officers executed a search warrant and arrested Gonzales at a residence in Brooklyn. Officers recovered 17 kilograms of cocaine and two handguns, including an Uzi 9mm pistol. Officers also seized approximately $70,000 in United States currency.
According to prosecutors, Lall’s indictment is the culmination of an investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Internal Revenue Service; Criminal Investigation Division; the Rochester Police Department and the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office.
The cocaine-related charge meant that Lall violated his bail in the bulk cash smuggling by participating in another crime. He had been on a $100,000 secured bond on December 1, 2014 in New Jersey.
Lall was nabbed by Puerto Rican authorities in a high profile arrest back in November 2014 while transporting more than US$600,000 in cash aboard his jet.
In a plea deal submitted, Lall agreed for the US$620,588 along with the 1988 Israel fixed wing multi-engine aircraft bearing Registration N822Ql and used in the crime, to be forfeited. Authorities have also moved to seize another plane he owns along with properties.
Under the deal with the US Government, Lall pleaded guilty to one count – of concealing more than US$10,000 in his plane and attempting to transfer it outside of the US to Guyana.
He would have been facing up to five years on a number of charges if he had opted for a trial and found guilty, according to court documents.
Lall, who had operated from a private hangar at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport and controlled KayLees Gas Station at Coverden, East Bank Demerara, has also agreed that other assets may be subject to forfeiture as there is still a pending civil matter for assets seizure in New Jersey, where he has homes, vehicles, cash and other properties.
As part of his filings, Lall, who had his licences revoked, submitted a waiver of right to trial by jury.
Lall is also facing a civil matter, with the US Government going after luxury vehicles, another plane, more than US$400,000 cash lying in several frozen bank accounts as well as at least three properties.
When he was detained in late 2014 in Puerto Rico, authorities found stashed, in different parts of the plane, more than US$600,000 that Prosecutors say was not declared by Lall.
He reportedly took responsibility for the cash at the time of arrest. On board were his father and another person.
There were swirling questions over the operations of the hangar he had at Timehri. The PPP/C Government had denied that it granted the company any special privileges and said that the operations were in keeping with regulations.
The Government of Guyana has since taken possession of the hangar that Lall operated at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport