Defendant who served sentence back in court for same charges

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BY the Today Newspaper

GREAT BAY – José Leonel Gomez served his sentence for firearm possession – a conviction dating back to March 2, 2014 – and his probation expires on September 26. Yet, he was in court on Wednesday to answer to charges for money laundering stemming from the same 2014-court case. The Court in First Instance acquitted him of that charge, but the prosecution went on appeal. Gomez was therefore back in court, with his attorney Eldon Sulvaran. The appeals court will render judgment on September 16.

Gomez filed an appeal himself in 2014 as well and the judges asked him why. “Because the prosecution went on appeal,” the defendant said.

The story began on August 1, 2013 when Gregory Garza, an agent at the Curacao Country Office of the American Drug Enforcement Administration DEA, reported to the police in St. Maarten that his office received “reliable information” in July that an apartment on the Airport Road was “probably used” for stashing drugs, money and possibly weapons.

The same day, a team of twelve law enforcement officers conducted a house search on the address given by the DEA-agent.

They found, amongst many other things, $120,000 and €68,000 (around $95,000) in cash hidden in two sports bags under a bed. They also found three handguns – a Glock model 26, a Ruger P90 and an Smith&Wesson revolver with twenty rounds of ammunition.

The Court in First Instance accepted last year Gomez’ explanation that the money under his bed stemmed from house rent and the lease of heavy equipment in Bonaire.

Yesterday, the solicitor-general contested this ruling. “The money was packed in bundles of $10,000 – mostly $120-notes – vacuum wrapped in clear foil. It was also hidden. These are all typologies of money laundering.”

The prosecutor did not accept the explanation for the defendant’s wealth either. “He only came after eight months at the trial with his explanation. Under interrogation, he gave no insights in the way he earns his living. He said the money was wrapped in foil because his roof was leaking.”

The companies Gomez mentioned to investigators did not generate any income according to information the prosecution obtained from the tax inspectorate. “These companies are fronts for illegal activities.”

The prosecution has also appealed the acquittal of Gomez’ wife Ketin, saying that she must have known about the money in the house. “She cleaned the house and the space under the bed where the money was found, was clean.”

The prosecutor demanded 3 years of imprisonment and a $62,000 fine against Gomez and 2 years of imprisonment against his wife, who did not attend the court hearing.

In March  of last year, Gomez was sentenced to 21 months for firearm possession. Of this sentence, 7 months were suspended. He has served his time.

Attorney Sulvaran said that the Court in First Instance had rendered a correct judgment. “It is not up to my client to prove his innocence,” he said.

The attorney did not find it strange that his client had so much cash at home. “There are hordes of people who do not maintain a bank account,” he said. “The possession of cash is not against the law. Maybe my client has an unusual way of doing business, but that’s all.”

One of Sulvaran’s core arguments against the new trial focuses on the fact that his client has already served his sentence. “The sentence has been executed, so there is no reason for an appeal,” he said. “The punishment is irrevocable.”

Sulvaran asked the court to declare the prosecution inadmissible.

He furthermore noted that it can be “insufficiently excluded” that the money in his client’s possession  stems from a legal source.