ST. THOMAS — Five men have been charged with federal drug crimes after federal agents busted a cocaine trafficking operation at Havensight Mall, U.S. Attorney Gretchen Shappert announced Friday.

The men — Matthew Hazel, Jose Solano, Andrew Wilson, Cesar Thomas, and Lodwin Ashton — were arrested Thursday and charged with conspiracy to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine.

They made their initial appearances in U.S. District Court court Friday.

According to court documents, a Drug Enforcement Administration confidential source met with Solano to discuss the purchase of 25 kilograms of cocaine in St. Thomas.

During the meeting, Solano agreed to sell the source 25 kilograms of cocaine for $312,000. Thomas was also present with Solano during the meeting, and he agreed to conduct the transaction on the following day, according to the news release from Shappert.

On Thursday at around 4:01 p.m., agents and the source arrived at Havensight Mall, which was the agreed-upon location for the source to meet up with Solano for the drug exchange, according to the statement.

Just after 4:00 p.m., agents observed Solano arrive in a black Toyota Tacoma. Solano parked in the area between the Smoking Rooster and the post office, next to where the source was located. Solano then exited the Tacoma a short time later.

A black Honda Civic arrived, driven by Thomas with Wilson in the front passenger seat. Thomas and Wilson parked in the vicinity of Solano’s vehicle; both exited the vehicle and congregated around both the Honda and the Tacoma for about 45 minutes to an hour, according to the news release.

“During that time, federal agents observed Wilson on his phone several times, while pacing through the parking lot. Agents also observed Wilson using hand gestures to direct a dark colored Jeep Wrangler and black G35 Infiniti to his location in the Havensight Mall parking lot.”

The two cars — the Jeep, followed by the Infiniti — arrived on scene around 4:45 p.m.

The Jeep, a dark-colored Wrangler, was driven by Ashton. After Ashton parked the Jeep in the same area, agents observed Thomas and Wilson approach the Jeep and talk with Ashton.

Moments later, the black G35 Infiniti sedan, which bore no license plate, joined the group. The Infiniti was driven by Hazel, and Jenel Smith was in the back seat, according to the news release.

“Agents observed Thomas and Wilson approach Hazel and converse with him. Moments later, agents observed Hazel exit the G35 Infiniti as the trunk of the vehicle sprung open. Agents then observed Thomas, Hazel, and the source at the rear of the G35 looking into the trunk. Moments later, agents observed Hazel close the trunk as the source gave a signal to the agents, confirming the presence of kilograms of suspected cocaine to be present within the G35 Infinity,” according to the news release.

Agents arrested Solano, Thomas, Wilson, Ashton, Hazel and Smith, who were later transported to the DEA St. Thomas Resident Office for processing. After the arrest, agents recovered approximately 25 brick-like packages of suspected cocaine from the trunk of the G35 Infinity and a loaded Walther Arms PPX semi-automatic handgun, which authotieites say Hazel was sitting on in the driver’s seat.

Agents also recovered a second loaded semi-automatic handgun from the Jeep Wrangler, which was located underneath the steering wheel.

This case is being investigated jointly by the DEA, Homeland Security Investigation, Air Marine Operations, Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the V.I. Police Department.

It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Meredith Edwards and Juan Albino.

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