Court documents filed in U.S. District Court allege that one of five men recently charged with smuggling 433 pounds of cocaine is the accused leader of a massive drug trafficking ring, and was fleeing arrest in the British Virgin Islands when he was captured on a boat near St. Thomas.

Ruben Reyes-Barel, a citizen of the Dominican Republic, was arrested Nov. 18 alongside four Puerto Rican men — Jorge Romero-Amaro, Giovanni Graciani, Hector Rivera and Pedro Sayan. All five were charged with possession with intent to distribute 433 pounds of cocaine “for which the maximum term of imprisonment is life,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Delia Smith noted in a motion for detention filed Tuesday.

“The defendants here are members of a major drug trafficking organization that operates in the British Virgin Islands, St. Thomas, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. The leader of the organization, defendant Reyes-Barel, fled Tortola, British Virgin Islands, on or after November 6, 2020, after Royal Virgin Islands Police Force attempted to execute an arrest and search warrant on Reyes-Barel,” Smith wrote.

She added that after Reyes-Barel fled, the Royal Virgin Islands Police seized about “two tons of cocaine, the largest cocaine seizure in the BVI’s history, several automatic rifles and Reyes-Barel’s cellphone and personal identification.”

BVI police also arrested one of their own — police officer Darren Davis, and his brother Liston Davis, who acted as Reyes-Barel’s protection and secured his cocaine on their property,” according to the motion. BVI authorities said the seized cocaine, 5,582 pounds, has a street value of about $250 million.

At about 9:30 p.m. on Nov. 18, Reyes-Barel and the other four men were arrested after U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations intercepted a vessel they tracked on radar traveling from St. Thomas to Puerto Rico, according to an affidavit filed by a special agent with the FBI.

As Customs and Border Protection marine units were following the vessel and trying to force it to stop, agents “saw individuals onboard the target vessel throwing black objects overboard into the ocean.” The agents dropped markers where the objects were discarded and continued to pursue the fleeing vessel until it “finally stopped.”

U.S. Coast Guard personnel found seven duffel bags floating in the ocean, according to the affidavit. Inside the bags, agents said they found 187 cellophane-wrapped, brick-shaped packages of cocaine weighing about 433 pounds.

Agents read the five men their rights, and Reyes-Barel waived his right to remain silent and said he traveled illegally from Tortola in the British Virgin Islands to St. Thomas by boat, according to the affidavit. Reyes-Barel, “a native of the Dominican Republic, further stated that he was trying to get to Puerto Rico, and that he paid $500 to a boat captain in Tortola to transport him to St. John.”

Reyes told agents that he didn’t know the duffel bags were aboard when he boarded the vessel bound for Puerto Rico, and “he was supposed to pay the captain $1,000 on his arrival,” according to the affidavit.

Smith argued that the men must be held without bond pending trial because of the severity of their alleged crime, and the likelihood that they will flee prosecution and a possible life prison sentence.

“The defendants charged here are United States citizens with the exception of Reyes-Barel, who is a Dominican Republic national without legal status in the United States,” Smith wrote. “Reyes-Barel is wanted in the BVI on an active arrest warrant issued on November 12, 2020, for cocaine and firearms possession charges.”

Rivera Concepcion was arrested in 2017 by the Puerto Rico Police Department and charged with possession of a controlled substance, and Romero-Amaro, Graciani and Sayan Villanueva have no criminal history, according to the motion.

“Neither defendant has any ties to the district of the Virgin Islands. Hence, the defendants are a flight risk,” Smith wrote.

— Contact Suzanne Carlson at 340-714-9122 or email