Sunday, January 18, 2009

Drug accused Morgan says he was trading currency

Drug accused Morgan says he was trading currency

Stabroek News, January 18, 2009

Family made over 60 trips to US with large sums

Peter Morgan, who is facing narcotics charges in the US, says the only reason he and his relatives travelled with large sums of foreign currency was because he benefited from favourable exchange rates using Guyana dollars to purchase forex which was then used to pay overseas suppliers of his company, Morgan Auto Sales.
Peter Morgan

Peter Morgan

Morgan plans to use the testimonies of the owners and persons associated with his overseas suppliers to show that he was involved in legitimate business which had nothing to do with narcotics.

In a memorandum filed through his lawyer, Alan Futerfas, Morgan said that for almost 20 years he used market fluctuations to trade for profit in currency, as the unusual economic conditions in Guyana forced most businessmen in this country to pay vendors in other currency. He claimed that his business, which was established in 1991, utilised the New York bank account of Sabena Manufacturing established by his father, James Morgan at the JP Morgan Chase Bank way back in 1985. Since the establishment of that bank account Morgan and his relatives made over 60 trips to the US carrying large sums of US and Canadian dollars along with British pounds totalling millions of dollars, all of which were declared.

The JP Morgan Chase Bank account has since been closed by US authorities and the proceeds given to the state as it was the same bank account that Morgan’s sister Sabrina Budhram and her husband, Arnold, admitted to using to launder money for drug accused, Roger Khan and others. The account was in the name of Morgan’s father, who is currently serving time in the United Kingdom for a drug offence. According to the prosecution in the Budhram matter, the account was used to launder money from drug pushers in Guyana. The Budhrams have pleaded guilty to certain aspects of money laundering and while Arnold has been sentenced to three years’ probation his wife is still awaiting sentencing.

The filing of the memorandum, which is in support of Morgan’s pre-trial motions, indicates that the plea-bargain negotiation he was in with the prosecution has failed. In the memorandum, Morgan is seeking to have depositions taken from persons outside the US accepted. He also wants an order precluding the use of intercepted telephone conversations from a particular telephone number on which he is overheard speaking. Morgan is also seeking an order preventing the government from introducing certain “other crimes” evidence it may seek to offer and for the government to disclose to the defence the name of each expert it intends to call at the trial and provide a summary of his/her anticipated testimony.

The 42-year-old Morgan is facing a three-count indictment which accuses him of conspiring to import, possess and distribute five kilogrammes of cocaine between December 2001 and August 2003. He was nabbed in March of 2007 in Trinidad where his lawyers said he had gone to visit relatives. However, he was in transit at that country’s airport when he was picked up by Trinidadian and US authorities. He was subsequently extradited on August 23, 2007 from Trinidad where he was represented by attorney-at-law Chris Mancini. His extradition came after he withdrew the last-ditch appeal he had made in the Port of Spain Appellate Court challenging it.

Morgan had initially attempted to have the extradition order made by Trinidad Chief Magistrate Sherman McNicolls on April 30, 2007, reversed. His lawyers had appealed but this was dismissed in the High Court and then a new appeal was filed.

‘Buying and selling’

According to Morgan, his business, which he has built into a profitable enterprise, involves buying, importing and selling previously owned and/or reconditioned automobiles, truck, machinery, automotive parts and other products. He said prior to his arrest he resided with his former wife and three children aged 14, 15 and 17 in Guyana. The former wife now helps to run their business as he sits in jail.

To develop his business, the man said, he travelled extensively to find vendors and create business relationships and while customers were located in Guyana and paid in Guyana currency his vendors are located in Singapore, England, Japan and China. It was noted that Guyana currency is not accepted outside Guyana and as such he used US, British and Canadian currency when conducting business outside Guyana.

He claimed that while Agent Todd Nickerson, who investigated his sister’s matter, reviewed the Chase bank account he failed to state that the account records showed that it was used largely to pay vendors around the world as records would show deposits into account and then wires out to businesses in other countries.

Foreign witnesses

Meanwhile, the defence is seeking an order to use the depositions of nine witnesses all of whom are unavailable because they reside outside the US, are not subject to the district court’s subpoena power and will not travel to the US to testify.

The first witness the defence plans to use is a man who owns a motor works company in Derbyshire, England, which buys used and reconditioned Bedford army trucks at government auctions. He is expected to testify from his personal knowledge about his business relationship with Morgan, which began in the early 1990s. Morgan reportedly purchased large numbers of Bedford trucks from that company which he then imported and sold in Guyana. He met the owner of the company in England two or three times a year to select the vehicles he purchased and the owner is expected to testify about the payment methods Morgan employed.

The second witness is expected to testify that he had first-hand knowledge about his business relationship with Morgan for eight years and that he purchased quantities of new and used spare parts and machines which he imported and sold in Guyana. The memorandum did not say if this witness has owned a business or how the two were business partners.

The third and fourth witnesses are Morgan’s mother and his stepfather; his mother has lived in England for the past 26 years. His stepfather worked in the automobile business as a salesman for his entire career and they both helped Morgan pay his car, truck and auto parts’ vendors in England. They are expected to testify about the currency exchange methods Morgan used to pay his vendors. They cannot travel because his mother is ill and undergoing treatment.

Another witness set to testify is an employee of a British company that sold excavators and other earth-moving equipment to Morgan over the years. He would testify about his business relationship with Morgan and the manner in which his company received payment. The sixth witness is from the same company and he is said to be a senior member of that company. He will testify about the close relationship the company had with Morgan and his extensive experience trading and during business in Guyana. He is ill and cannot travel.

Two other witnesses come from Guyana and the first is an employee of Morgan’s company who is said to know all aspects of the business including the import and sales of the vehicles sold and payment to foreign vendors. He will testify about his trips to the US to exchange money which was properly declared. He is 60 and still works with the company. The third Guyanese witness is a brother of Morgan and he will testify about the creation of the company and the volume of business. He also has detailed first-hand knowledge about Guyanese currency and exchange business and possesses significant evidence relative to the credibility of his ex-wife, who the defence believes would be used as a government witness at the trial.

The final witness is a 53-year-old Trinidadian woman who answered an advertisement in a Trinidadian newspaper for a babysitting position in Guyana. The advertisement was placed in the papers by a couple and according to the defence it was the beginning of “a string of lies and misdeeds committed against her” by the couple. Her evidence is expected to contradict the testimony of the couple. They have already testified at prior trials. The woman will also testify about the source of the man’s supply of drugs which the defence says goes to the heart of the government’s case against Morgan.

To support the bid for an order to take the testimonies from the witnesses in their respective countries, the defence cited the ruling of Judge Dora Irizarry, who has permitted the lawyers of Roger Khan to take the testimonies of witnesses here in Guyana.

‘Target phone’

The memorandum made mention of a May 8, 2003 application made by Nickerson to Judge Jack Weinstein for a court order authorizing the interception of wire communications over the telephone. In support of the application, the agent indicated that there was probable cause that certain designated offences “have been committed, are being committed, and will continue to be committed” by the “subject individuals” including Morgan on the target phone. It was stated that the designated offences were the importation, distribution and possession of cocaine and conspiracy to do the same.

According to Morgan’s lawyer, Nickerson relied on four confidential informants to support probable cause. One informant was arrested on August 2002 at JFK upon arrival from Guyana in possession of more than 12 kilogrammes of cocaine. After admitting to having previously smuggled cocaine into the country the informant claimed that Sabrina and Arnold Budhram were laundering the narcotics proceeds and he gave the authorities the addresses of the couple’s home. The informant reportedly was an individual who made numerous narcotics smuggling trips from Guyana to the US.

The second informant was arrested in 2002 for conspiracy to distribute cocaine and this informant claimed to have taken the proceeds of four prior cocaine shipments to Sabrina Budhram between 2001 and 2002. The informant also supplied the names of three other individuals.

The third informant was arrested in 2001 and told law enforcement officers of being involved in a drug organisation with another of Morgan’s relatives who transported drug proceeds from the US to Guyana.

And the fourth informant was arrested at JFK after arriving from Guyana with some six kilogrammes of cocaine and according to Nickerson’s affidavit, a well-known Guyanese, whose name was listed, was to pick the informant up at the airport. It was claimed that the informant had made a successful trip in May of 2002 for that person. The Guyanese, who operates a popular nightspot in Georgetown, was arrested several times by the local police during the many raids on properties belonging to Roger Khan.

Drugs were reportedly found on his property by the police on one occasion and he was charged but the matter later dismissed. The informant claimed to have seen shoe boxes of money, allegedly drug proceeds, at that person’s house. The telephone number and address provided by the informant belonged to that Guyanese.

Nickerson’s affidavit had stated that five to ten minutes before a vehicle would arrive at the target residence, the front light would turn on and then turn off once the vehicle departed. He said that a brother of Morgan flew from JFK to Guyana in August of 2002 and that an outbound search of his luggage turned up US$104,000. He had presented a completed currency reporting form filed for the amount and had said the money belonged to two companies in Guyana: Morgan Auto Sales and Sabena Manufacturing, the latter being a company that imported raw materials for clothing manufacturing which had been owned by the family for 25 years.

According to Morgan’s lawyers, the affidavit also stated that the brother made some 70 trips over a 16-year span between 1986 and 2002 in which he declared money for Sabena Manufacturing. The affidavit also stated that more than 15 different individuals had made trips declaring money on behalf of Sabena over those 16 years and that in excess of US$10 million had been declared on behalf of the company over a 10-year period. The declarations were prepared by travellers who handed them in at the time of their arrival in the US.

The lawyers said Peter Morgan is only mentioned in a section of the affidavit called “pen register, trap and trace and phone toll analysis on subject telephone.” The sections stated that Morgan owns his company and is the brother of Sabrina and that he had taken 60 flights to or from JFK and declared a total of US$100,000 in the name of his company or Sabena. The affidavit said that numerous calls were placed and received between Morgan Auto Sales and the target telephone, 10 of which were over a three-week period from April 3 to April 25, 2003.

However, the lawyers said, the agent did not reveal facts that would have substantially altered the judge’s assessment of probable cause. They said the nature of the two companies were omitted from the affidavit and the only mention of “a prosperous business” owned and run by Morgan appears in the affidavit where the agent states that Morgan’s brother was interviewed by police enforcement and stated he was transporting money belonging to Morgan Auto Sales.

The lawyers feel that the agent could have readily learned that Peter Morgan was involved in the currency exchange business and automotive business for over 15 years.

They said the agent “must have thought it odd” that Morgan was declaring an average of US$625,000 per year, year after year, from 1986 to 2002 if he was doing something illegal.

They said one could only suggest criminality regarding the Sabena account if one ignored that from 1986 forward, steady sums of currency of about US$625,000 per year were declared and brought into the US and deposited at a New York bank.

According to one of the charges Morgan faces, some time between October 1, 2001 and August 31, 2003, Morgan knowingly and intentionally conspired with David Narine, Susan Narine, Hung-Fung Mar and other persons unknown, to traffic in cocaine by importation. The second charge alleges that some time between December 1, 2001 and August 31, 2003, he trafficked in cocaine by importation. He faces jail terms of ten years to life imprisonment if convicted.

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