Woman pleads guilty to smuggling cocaine into U.S.

The Baltimore Sun

A Baltimore woman pleaded guilty yesterday to strapping more than 7 pounds of cocaine to her body and smuggling it into the U.S from the Commonwealth of Dominica, an island in the Caribbean.

Beatrice Viola West, 48, will face between five and 40 years in federal prison, though by the time she's sentenced in late April she'll have already served nearly two years. Since June 2007 until recently, she had been held in federal custody in Puerto Rico, despite repeated attempts by the U.S. Marshals Service to transfer her to Maryland.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard D. Bennett was taken aback by the delay.

"It's just a lengthy process in Puerto Rico," explained Assistant U.S. Attorney James G. Warwick. In letters written to her Puerto Rico-based attorney and presiding case judge, West, too, wondered what was going on. Bennett promised to credit her for time served.

According to Puerto Rico court records, in June 2007, West took an American Eagle flight from Dominica to San Juan, where a Customs and Border Protection officer thought she appeared nervous and in a hurry to get out of the inspection area. He noted that she had a connecting flight to Baltimore, then noticed a "bulge" near her waist. A pat-down revealed plastic bags of cocaine, weighing 3.4 kilograms, attached to her midsection and thighs.

She was arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials and charged with importation of controlled substances and possession with intent to distribute, though prosecutors say the latter charge will likely be dropped at her sentencing April 24.

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