Two Beetham Gardens community leaders who were arrested during the T&T Police Service (TTPS)’s anti-gang operations last week appeared in court yesterday for simple possession of marijuana.
Ancel “Chemist” Villafana and Kenneth “Spanish” Rodriguez appeared before Senior Magistrate Cherril-Anne Antoine in the Port-of-Spain Magistrates’ Court.
Villafana pleaded not guilty to the charge and was granted bail while Rodriguez pleaded guilty and was fined $2,000.
While the TTPS had repeatedly labelled both men as “reputed gang leaders,” without naming them, neither was charged under the Anti-Gang Act or have convictions for such offences.
In Villafana’s case, the father of seven pleaded not guilty to being in possession of a small quantity of marijuana that was allegedly found when a house at Phase Five, Beetham Gardens, was raided last Wednesday. He was granted $25,000 bail with a cash alternative of $10,000.
In applying for bail for 38-year-old Villafana, his lawyer Ian Brooks called on police to disclose records related to the case. Brooks pointed out that while the search warrant stated there were persons with Villafana in the house when police entered, the summary of evidence being used in the case said he was alone.
“They (the police) can build their case from there,” Brooks said.
During the hearing, police prosecutors informed Antoine that police had seized $63,800 and US$2,140 in cash during the raid and the money was handed over to the Financial Investigation Bureau.
Villafana is expected to reappear in court on March 18.
In presenting a mitigation plea on Rodriguez’s behalf, his attorney Wayne Sturge asked for leniency based on the fact his client immediately claimed ownership of the six grammes of marijuana after it was found during a raid on his home last Friday. Police officers were in search of arms and ammunition but stumbled upon the drug, which was hidden in short pants in a laundry basket.
Sturge said Rodriguez had been using the drug for over 30 years and admitted he had been charged for it on two occasions over the past decade.
“There is little purpose in doing anything else but a fine,” Sturge said, as he also called upon Antoine to consider that the Government is currently hosting public consultations on decriminalising marijuana.
He also revealed that Rodriguez owned a contracting firm and a security company.
“The position has not been moved as yet,” Antoine responded before issuing the fine.
The duo was among over 30 people arrested as part of the TTPS’s response to a recent upsurge in murders and violent crime in east Port-of-Spain. All except Rodriguez and Villafana were eventually freed without being charged.
Meanwhile, police yesterday conducted another exercise at Beetham Gardens.
Two women were detained for questioning during the exercise, which is part of their Red Alert operation.