Thursday, June 13, 2019
By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
CONVICTED Bahamian drug smuggler Austin Knowles will spend just over six years in prison and forfeit $1m for his role in an international conspiracy and drug trafficking scheme in 2002.
Knowles pleaded guilty to four charges related to the scheme that saw him and 16 others netted in an international investigation, code-named “Operation Bluewater”.
On Monday, US District judge Robin Rosenberg sentenced Knowles to 12 years in prison to be served concurrently for each charge, and knocked off about five years due to time served on remand in both the US and at home.
She further recommended Knowles be incarcerated at a facility in South Florida to facilitate visits from his family.
At sentencing, he paid $750,000 of his forfeiture order.
Knowles was extradited to the US in May 2018, ending a more than decade-long court battle fighting against removal from this country, and pleaded guilty in a South Florida court the following month.
The four counts include: conspiracy to import five or more kilograms of cocaine; attempting to import five or more kilograms of cocaine; importation of five or more kilograms of cocaine; and conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute five or more kilograms of cocaine.
He faced a sentencing guideline range of 20 to 30 years imprisonment.
Knowles objected to the pre-sentence investigation (PSI) report, which suggested he be held accountable for 1,087 kilograms of cocaine - the quantity of drugs involved in the scheme.
Counsel for Knowles argued he was not extradited on charges that contemplated the quantity of the drugs; however, Assistant US Attorney Robin W Waugh insisted Knowles should be sentenced based on his admitted involvement in the conspiracy to transport the cocaine.
Ms Waugh wrote: “During the course of the conspiracy, from as early as June 2002 through November 13, 2002, Knowles and others were engaged in the trafficking of large quantities of cocaine from Jamaica to the Bahamas, then onward to the United States. Knowles was intercepted communicating with co-conspirators discussing the logistics of shipments of cocaine, including the quantity of drugs, seaworthiness of vessels, concealment of the cocaine, law enforcement activities on the high seas which may thwart successful transportation, and the distribution of cocaine.
“Simply put,” Ms Waugh added, “Knowles was involved in a conspiracy to transport three shipments of cocaine, totalling 1,087 kilograms of cocaine and charged and extradited accordingly. Therefore, he should be sentenced based on his involvement in a conspiracy to transport 1,087 kilograms of cocaine.”
Knowles was admitted to the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services in December 2002, and released by the court in March 2005. He was readmitted in October 2017, and extradited to the United States last year.
He was accused alongside Nathaniel Knowles, Edison Watson, Ian Bethel and Sean Bruey aka Shawn Saunders - who are still on remand at BDCS and facing extradition.
Knowles submitted 15 character references from relatives, religious leaders, and close friends, including his wife Cassandra Newton-Knowles; his pastor and former Central Eleuthera MP Phillip Bethel; Family Island Administrator Gilbert Kemp; his ex-wife, and the mother of his children.
The references by loved ones, most of whom purport to have known Knowles for most of his life, appealed for leniency and attested to his strong ties to the Eleuthera community and good moral character.
Upon release from prison, Knowles will be on supervised release for another five years.
Knowles will be deported after his sentence is completed, and will not need to report for his supervised release as long as he resides outside of the US. He will not be able to return without written permission from Border and Transportation Security, and will need to report to his probation officer if he reenters the US during the period of his supervised release.