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By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Oct. 21) – A 57-year-old Marshall Islands grandmother is being held in jail in one of the biggest cocaine busts ever in this central Pacific nation.

A Marshall Islands judge Wednesday refused to give Meriba Bulele, 57, bail, saying she was a danger to the public, after police presented evidence that she had 20 kilos, or 44 pounds, of cocaine that she was providing to local dealers. The cocaine is estimated to have a street value in the United States of about US$2.5 million, though it was being sold for considerably less at the islands that host the top secret U.S. Army missile testing base at Kwajalein Atoll.

Since mid-2004, police have arrested more than 15 people on the islands of Ebeye and Majuro for cocaine possession and distribution. But this bust that netted 20 kilograms of cocaine, and resulted in arrests of two Marshall Islanders and two American workers at the Army base is the biggest drug haul for Marshall Islands police and Kwajalein Police Department officials since cocaine washed ashore at Kwajalein Atoll in early 2004.

Bulele, described as a 57-year-old grandmother living on Carlos, an island with a population of about 150 that is a 15 minute boat ride from both Ebeye Island and the missile range base, was charged with two counts of distributing drugs after a tip pointed police to dig up the cache of cocaine buried on the island.

This cocaine, police say, was part of a larger amount that Bulele and her husband Raynold, who committed suicide early last month, brought back from a boat that was loaded with cocaine and washed into a small island near Carlos in March 2004. Professionally wrapped packages of cocaine have washed ashore on the beaches of remote islands in this country on at least five occasions since the early 1990s, according to police.

Since March 2004, police investigators say, the Buleles distributed cocaine to dealers who sold it to both people on Ebeye and Americans on Kwajalein.

Charged at the same time as Bulele were Ebeye resident Mark Kaia, and American missile range contract workers Richard Kopache and Bruce Lundmark.

High Court Judge Richard Hickson, who ruled that they were a danger to the community, denied bail to both Bulele and Kaia. Kaia is charged with one count of cocaine possession.

Lundmark, who is charged with three counts of cocaine possession, and Kopache, who is facing one count of drug possession, were also charged in the High Court and were given bail of US$5,000.

Both Kopache and Lundmark, through their lawyer public defender Russell Kun, requested to be transferred from the Ebeye jail to Majuro, the nation’s capital atoll, and offered to pay their own way, in order to have access to funds to make bail and hire private attorneys.

A detailed affidavit by Ebeye police investigator Davidson Jajo describes a long-term cocaine distribution operation with Bulele at the center from sparsely populated Carlos Island.

Jajo’s affidavit quotes several different informants, most of whom were dealing cocaine on Ebeye, pointing the finger at the Buleles as their source of the drug. One Ebeye seller said that Kaia brought him cocaine, which he sold and then usually split the profit on a 50-50 basis with Kaia.

Two other self-confessed dealers said their source was the Buleles.

In early October, the Kwajalein Police Department discovered cocaine on Lundmark when he went through the Army checkpoint at the dock on his return from Ebeye Island.

Kaia told police that last December the Buleles approached him with two bricks (about four kilos or 8.8 pounds) of cocaine to sell. He then began selling it for between US$250-300 in chewing tobacco cans, according to Jajo. Kaia told police that he received cocaine on a monthly basis from the Buleles. He said he sold a tobacco can (34 grams) to Lundmark for US$400 in early October. This is about US$10 per gram for cocaine, or less than 10 percent of the street sale price in the U.S.

He also told police that there was a one-kilo (2.2 pounds) package on Ebeye, which police said they recovered last week.

According to Jajo, Lundmark said that, with Kopache, between June and September this year, he bought about 50 small cans of cocaine for about US$20,000 on Ebeye.

When police interviewed Bulele on Carlos Island on October 6, she denied any knowledge of cocaine. Police took her to Ebeye Island for further questioning while police dug up 20 kilos of cocaine that was buried in plastic bags underground on Carlos Island, Jajo said.

Preliminary hearings for the four defendants are set for November 11.

[PIR editor’s note: The islands of Ebeye and Carlos are adjacent to Kwajalein atoll – all northwest of the capital city of Majuro.]

October 21, 2005

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