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Drug smuggler loses appeal against conviction

A woman who conspired to smuggle three dozen vials of drugs into Bermuda hidden in shampoo bottles has had her appeal against conviction thrown out by the Supreme Court.

Lencia Berkeley was found guilty after a trial in Magistrates’ Court, but launched an appeal against her conviction before she could be sentenced.

During her 2019 trial, the court heard that on July 4, 2017, a customs officer searched a package mailed by Russell Murray to the Grotto Bay Resort, where Berkeley worked and lived in staff accommodations.

The package appeared to contain two bottles of shampoo, along with shea butter and coco butter, but when the shampoo bottles were examined, 36 vials of brown liquid were found inside.

The vials were found to contain Delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol – the main psychoactive component of cannabis – with a street value of between $900 and $5,400.

The Bermuda Police Service carried out a “controlled delivery” of the package and on July 18, 2017, David Landy, a customs officer, attended Crawl Post Office and signed for the package.

He was arrested soon after collecting the package and gave the police Berkeley’s phone number.

Berkeley attended Hamilton Police Station later that same day and she too was arrested.

A search was carried out at Berkeley’s home where officers received a phone along with torn-up delivery information for the parcel.

On March 13, Berkeley was seen walking in the company of Russell Murray, who was arrested and detained on suspicion of conspiring to import a controlled drug.

However the court heard that Mr Murray – a private jet pilot – subsequently fled the island.

During the trial, Mr Landy told the court that he had worked at the hotel in addition to his work as a customs officer and that he had met Berkeley when she started work there ten years prior.

Giving evidence, he said that in July of 2017, Berkeley was out of the country helping her sick mother when she reached out to Mr Landy and asked if there was a postal slip at the front desk.

Mr Landy confirmed that there was and offered to collect the package for her, believing it contained shampoo and lotion.

Berkeley did not give evidence on her behalf, but told police that she had asked a friend in the US to purchase “soap and stuff” for her.

She told officers the package was sent by Mr Murray, who lives in New York, and that Mr Murray had also provided her with tracking information although she did not have it recorded anywhere.

Asked about the contents of the package, Berkeley said she did not know what was inside because she had not seen the package’s contents.

Berkeley was found guilty in Magistrates’ Court, with the magistrate noting that the shampoo and lotions included in the package were widely available in Bermuda and would cost about $30 – less than half of what was spent to ship the package to Bermuda.

The magistrate added that Berkeley had contacted Mr Landy about the package multiple times, which showed a “disproportionate interest” in what were supposedly mundane items.

Victoria Greening, counsel for Berkeley, however said the magistrate did not give enough consideration to her defence that she was unaware of the illegal contents of the package.

Puisne Judge Juan Wolffe however found in a decision dated July 1 that the magistrate had properly considered the facts in the case and determined that Berkeley had entered into an agreement to play “some part” in the plot to smuggle drugs into the island.

He also said the magistrate had drawn reasonable inference from the torn-up package tracking documents found in Berkeley’s residence.

“There may very well have been innocuous reasons for the appellant to tear up the tracking history information,” Mr Justice Wolffe said. “It is not unusual for a shipper of packages to discard shipping documentation after an item has arrived.

“However, in her police interview the appellant said that she did not have any of the tracking information recorded anywhere when in fact she did have such information stored on her cellphone.

“From this, the magistrate was entitled to logically and reasonably draw the inference that the appellant tore up the tracking information in order to conceal evidence pointing to her agreement with Mr Murray and/or another to import drugs into Bermuda.”

Mr Justice Wolffe dismissed the appeal and remitted the matter back to Magistrates’ Court for sentencing.

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