Women sentenced in Carnival Fantasy drug case

Alloah Releford, left, from Temple, Georgia, and 27-year-old Latoya Powell, of Marietta, Georgia, are escorted from Supreme Court after admitting plotting to import more than $400,000 of cannabis. (Photo by Akil Simmons/The Royal Gazette)

Editor's note: This story has been published with the permission of The Royal Gazette.

By Jonathan BellThe Royal Gazette

BERMUDA -- In spite of pleas for leniency, two female cruise passengers women were each sentenced to six years in jail yesterday after trying to smuggle drugs into Bermuda.

"Drug mules are never hardened criminals," Puisne Judge Carlisle Greaves told defense lawyers for Georgia natives Alloah Releford, 24, and Latoya Powell, 27. In both cases, lawyers had argued that financial desperation alone drove the pair to try and bring in 2.7kg of cannabis resin aboard the Carnival Fantasy on October 8.

Justice Greaves retorted that "crybaby stories should not get them off easy".

The pair were apprehended after US Customs, acting on information received, detained two other women from the ship before it left port at Charleston, South Carolina. The other would-be smugglers had a total of 2.7kg of cannabis resin. US officers determined they were part of a smuggling ring but by the time Releford and Powell were identified by their associates, the vessel had sailed.

According to Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Cindy Clarke, Bermuda law enforcement apprehended Powell in the pair's shared cabin shortly after the ship arrived at King's Wharf, Dockyard. Powell admitted she had packages strapped to her body and claimed not to know what they contained.

Releford was then stopped and also admitted the offence, telling police they had been told to take the packages to Bernard Park.

The total of nine packages contained just over four kg of cannabis resin, or hashish, which is normally sold locally in half-gram twists at $50 each. The drugs had a total street value of $406,550. The women had each been offered $5,000 to bring the drugs to Bermuda.

Ms Clarke called for an immediate custodial sentence of six to eight years.

Lawyer Kamal Worrell, representing Releford, said his client was no seasoned criminal, and exceptional circumstances had prevailed up until the time of her offence.

Releford, of Temple, Georgia, grew up with both parents incarcerated, he said, and had been moved around extensively through state care. Her father had been "nonexistent", Mr Worrell said, while her mother, released from prison in 2005, had died from lupus in April, 2011, leaving Releford to care for younger siblings as well as her own young children.

Marc Daniels, defending Powell, described his client's act as one of desperation, driven in part by more than $10,000 in medical bills for her daughter.

Powell, of Marietta, Georgia, also pleaded tearfully for a reduced sentence, and both women apologized to the court.

After deliberating, however, Justice Greaves responded that the consequences of smuggling drugs must be made clear, and that those asking for mercy when caught were expecting "a soft landing from Everest".

"On the contrary, this court must set a precedent," he said, calling the cannabis resin a "substantial quantity that would have posed a substantial danger to society".

Justice Greaves ordered each to serve six years' imprisonment, with their time spent in custody to be taken into account.