Soldiers were the real kidnappers… Robocop was ‘small fish’

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Following the death of Selwyn “Robocop’ Alexis on July 17, many reports surfaced as to the life of crime he lived. From kidnapping for ransom, robbery, murder, extortion, yet be was never convicted for any of these.

Alexis was slick and that is why he beat the system…with the help of the police.

During the years 2003 to 2007, kidnappings were the order of the day. So who was behind these kidnappings? Well, following the capture of an entire gang, kidnappings stopped.

The arrest of this gang shocked the nation. It was carried out by soldiers….yes soldiers. While some were arrested and are locked away in prison in Washington DC, the real mastermind was never arrested. He was a serving soldier and managed to escape arrest and extradition.

Four soldiers were among 12 persons arrested by a combination of local detectives and FBI officers from the Miami Office. They were investigating the disappearance of US Citizen, Balram ‘Balo’ Maharaj Maharaj, who was kidnapped at the Samaan Tree Bar, Aranquez, on April 6, 2005.

A $3-million ransom was demanded for his safe release. Maharaj, 62, a Trinidadian, died in the campsite in Santa Cruz. No money was ever paid, but Maharaj’s remains were found in two containers in the Santa Cruz forest on January 8, 2006.

So how did the police solve this case. Winston Gittens, a know car thief, was arrested for stealing a car. Right away, he wanted to make a deal. Deal?

He had information on the disappearance of Maharaj. So PC Wendell Lucas, who was then attached to the Homicide Bureau, went to see Gittens in his cell at the Arouca Police Station. His information turned out to be explosive. He took the police to a forested area in Santa Cruz where a hole was dug.

Two containers were recovered with human remains later identified as being Maharaj. After careful investigations, police rounded up 12 persons included four soldiers. A former soldier, Jason Percival, was the State’s star witness.

Because Maharaj was a US citizen, the US wanted their extradition to face trial in Washington DC. So, instead of a murder trial in Trinidad, the accused were all extradited to the US to face trial on charges of hostage taking resulting in death.

THE CASE

Jason Percival was nicknamed Soldier. He spent three-and-a-half years in the T&T Regiment before he was dishonourably discharged in 1999. Ten years later, the self-confessed kidnapper, was the star witness for the US government against seven Trinidadians in Washington DC charged with taking US citizen Balram “Balo” Maharaj hostage, resulting in his death.

In fact, Percival admitted playing major roles in the kidnappings. He lived in San Fernando, but moved to Bourg Mulatresse in 2003. Percival, 46, was the main witness before Judge John Bates at the trial which ended on July 3, 2009, with guilty verdicts against the seven Trinidadians —Zion Clarke, Cpl Ricardo De Four, Kevon Demerieux, Anderson Straker, Wayne Pierre, Christopher Sealey and Kevin Nixon.

They were all sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. In his testimony, Percival told the court of his involvement in the kidnapping of Dexter Jagdeo, Robin Ramadar and Maharaj. Percival said he met Wayne Pierre at Bourg Mulatresse in 2003.

“We became friends. We would drink together, we would go to strip clubs together.” He used to go to Pierre’s house at Grand Curacaye at least three to four times a week. During this time, he hung out with Demerieux, Clarke, Sealey and Russell “Saucy” Joseph. The following year, he met Winston Gittens. Percival said he met Ricardo De Four when he was in the army.

“I met him during the course of my army career around 1996. I did not hang out with him in the army, but in 2004, 2005, I was introduced to him by Ricardo Stephenson, my cousin, a corporal in the army,” he said. He said he knew that De Four carried a nine- millimetre handgun. He also met Sgt Leon Nurse three months before the Balram kidnapping. He also met Straker, whom he described as Gypsy’s son.

When asked who Gypsy was, Percival said, “a minister in the UNC Government, UNC party.” The former soldier said he was involved in the plan on December 16, 2004, to kidnap Dexter Jagdeo. He said: “Individuals would present Jagdeo with a warrant, dressed in what appeared to be a police uniform and arrest him. The warrant was supposed to come from a police officer. The uniform came from Ricardo De Four. There was a meeting at Wayne Pierre’s house assembling everyone, which is Russel Joseph, Magga, myself, Zion and Niron. They had a .357 magnum and a 9 mm.

“After conducting surveillance, Magga got dressed in the police uniform, and they left in a white B15, and snatched Jagdeo from his home,” he said. “I dropped off at Mellow Moods bar. I went to the residence where Jagdeo was being held at Upper Santa Cruz.”

Percival said ransom calls were made by Gittens, and the ransom was paid in a cemetery. The ransom was taken to Pierre’s house, where Pierre distributed it. Pierre later bought a Mazda 323 car. He said he also knew of the plan to kidnap Robin Ramadar on March 4, 2005.

“I came to be involved in it through De Four and Nurse,” he said. They wanted ‘outsiders’, meaning people rolling with Pierre. Gittens was chosen as the getaway driver. The ransom demand was $160,000. He was supposed to be held in the bush in Bourg Mulatresse. I was present for the kidnapping. He was kidnapped from the Curry House Bar, Queen Street, (Aranquez).

“I saw Mr Ramadar being dragged out of the bar. I saw them bundle him in the back of vehicle. I was present with Winston Gittens when the ransom calls were being made. His wife wanted to talk to him. Winston went and collect the individual from where he was being held. And while carrying him to the location where they had stashed him, they allowed her to talk to him on the phone.

“I together with Ricardo De Four, was involved in the collection of the ransom. De Four was looking out for any suspicious looking police vehicles that might be following the individual that was coming to drop the ransom off. I was travelling in De Four’s car, a silver Elantra. Pierre and Gittens picked up the ransom. We returned to Gittens’ apartment and separated the money. I received $30,000, De Four got $12,000, Gittens $30,000, Pierre $30,000. Ramadar was then released.”

Percival said in January 2005, the plan was devised to kidnap Balram. Percival said he went to Defence Force Headquarters and met with Nurse to discuss the kidnapping. He said Nurse came out from the canteen and approached the vehicle in which he was seated. The plan, he said, was to kidnap Balo’s son. It was decided that De Four would look out for the police. Percival went to Bourg Mulatresse and asked Wayne Pierre if he could handle the kidnapping and Pierre said yes.

But later Nurse and De Four changed the plan and decided to kidnap Balram instead.

Percival said, “Sometime later, De Four called me and said they wanted to meet Wayne, so they met at Mellow Moods Bar, days before the kidnapping. We sat under one of the carat sheds—De Four, Pierre, Nurse and myself. “Nurse said they were going to take Balram instead of the child. Nurse said it was easier to take the father. They were trying to convince Wayne Pierre and myself that the man had money and he had shares and other businesses in Trinidad. “Pierre wanted to be sure that the man really had money. De Four said the man have stocks and shares and other businesses. De Four said he got the information from Straker. The next time we had discussions was the day before the kidnapping. It was outside the Mellow Moods bar. Present were Nurse, De Four, Joseph, myself and Straker. They left to go and identify Balo at a bar. After pointing out Balo, they left. “Nurse also pointed out Balo’s house.”

Maharaj was kidnapped and never seen alive again.

Doreen Alexander-Durity, Maharaj’s former common-law wife, was also extradited to the US and jailed. Evidence revealed she was behind the kidnap plan to get money from Maharaj.

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