Bahamas immigration directors implicated by FBI in visa fraud case

8
William Pratt (L) and Clarence Russell

By Youri Kemp
Caribbean News Now associate editor
youri@caribbeannewsnow.com

NASSAU, Bahamas — In a developing story first reported by Tribune Media, a US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) sting operation has implicated the director of immigration in The Bahamas, William Pratt, and his immediate predecessor, Clarence Russell, in accepting bribes to provide Bahamian work permits and work visas to facilitate a smoother entry of Haitian nationals into the United States by making their US visa applications more likely to be approved.

In documents obtained by Caribbean News Now, filed in US District Court in Washington DC, FBI special agent, Kevin E. Gounaud, revealed that a dual Bahamian-Haitian national, Edward Israel Saintil, has been arrested and charged with “Encouraging and inducing illegal entry of certain aliens into the United States”, in violation of 8 USC § 1324(a)(1)(A)(iv).

The initial charges set out in an affidavit filed by Gounaud state that there is “probable cause” to believe that Saintil has encouraged and induced an alien to come to, enter, and reside in the United States, knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that such coming to, entry, or residence is or will be in violation of law”.

Gounaud requested that the court issue an arrest warrant for Saintil, pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 4(a).

saintil_affidavit

 

Saintil came on the FBI radar through another Haitian national being watched by the FBI, Edna St Fleur, and the means by which she was able to get a US visa to travel to the United States via The Bahamas.

It was there that an elaborate plot involving senior Immigration Department officials in The Bahamas, particularly Pratt and Russell, with both of whom Saintil claimed to have close working relationships.

Saintil noted that he preferred Pratt over Russell because he was more of a “businessman” and that Russell had been brought in “to change the situation in immigration”. Saintil claimed that he used to work with Russell in the “passport office”.

In a recorded conversation with undercover FBI agents, Saintil revealed that he facilitated Haitian nationals’ entry into the US via The Bahamas and presented the opportunity as a “path” to obtaining documentation for living and visiting the USA.

It was also revealed that Saintil told undercover FBI agents who claimed that had tried entry into the US before but were denied because they had no work permits from their country of origin that, when applying for US B-1 visas through the US Embassy in The Bahamas, it is necessary to have some sort of status in the country from where you are making the application.

Saintil, who is also a justice of the peace in The Bahamas, is also alleged to have provided false affidavits and identity certifications to Haitian nationals in order for them to obtain work permits easier in The Bahamas that would enable them to be looked at more favourably by US embassy officials there.

Saintil also claimed that he had six or seven other approved work visas from or about December 2017 in his car and that he was withholding these cards from the recipients because they owed him money. In these instances, rates for work permits from Saintil could range from anywhere from US$2,500 to up to US$15,000, particularly in the case of Chinese- and Spanish-speaking nationals.

In early January 2018, at the direction of Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis, Russell, the former Passport Office director, replaced Pratt as the immigration director.

Saintil has since been released on bail in Washington, DC, and has denied all charges against him in the matter.

Bahamian government officials have yet to respond formally to these allegations.

print

8 COMMENTS

  1. We never hear about any internal sting operations lead by the local authorties, even when there is a compelling reason to do so — only about cover ups and the lax punishment of offenders– adding to the well founded belief of corruption in high office throughout the region, leading also to a distrust of our entire political, police, and judicial systems, including the Caribbean Court of Justice which is why the two referenda were rightly and resounding given a NO vote on Tuesday.

  2. Did it ever occur to you that perhaps it is the US’ own backward and unfair legal system that explains the difference? Permitting (indeed encouraging) accused people to name alleged complicity of higher up officials and permitting these officials’ names to be released publicly is a favourite entrapment exercise of US officials and prosecutors (especially so when it involves black people from small countries, in which case they predictably display the same racist stereotypes that you gleefully parrot above). But in civilised countries, we have contempt laws that prevent such trial by media. So why don’t you wait to see if anyone is charged or any cogent evidence of complicity is forthcoming before applying your self-despising formula.

  3. I think it was a poor idea to bring a man who once served a military organization into the top position of a Para-military organization. I really don’t think it created the fusion that one expected, instead it created confusion, because the vision and the mentality is totally different, to the extent that it was said that the current director want to turn a para-military organization into a full military organization. Also, on the one hand where one Immigration director was removed from the post, and on the other hand another Immigration Director was appointed, to clean up the image of the department, and now it has come to light that he is allegedly involved in an International scandal of mammoth proportions involving bribery and corruption by means of public office. Certainly, I hope this matter is thoroughly investigated, and in the end, I hope that the chips fall where they may.

  4. I will go out on a limb and say I have no misgivings whatsoever that the (FBI) will continue to probe into and use all the legal norms available to check into the interrelationship and interconnection with regard to the implication and alleged corruption by Top Level Bahamas Immigration officials involving Bahamian work visas by means of bribery and self enrichment to subsequently cause foreign nationals to obtain American visas to work and live in the United States. This is an alleged monumental breach of the public trust, and furthermore this is a huge national security matter for both countries. Albeit, the current Bahamas Immigration Director is denying the allegations, however it is the mere implications that raise suspicion and automatically cast a dark cloud on the department and the country as a whole. I’m wholeheartedly of the view that, ignorance of the law is no excuse and heads needs to roll in light of this International scandal.

  5. Alleged corruption has once again crept into the woodwork of another government department, that being The Bahamas Immigration. The gravity of this investigation in the hands of the (FBI) for two years now has set off a whirlwind which from this standpoint indicates a relentless approach by the (FBI) of finding out who are the culprits that are allegedly violating the laws not only of the United States, but also the laws of The Bahamas. Current Director of Immigration is implicated in the U.S. Visa scandal involving other foreign nationals by using his Public Office back when he was head of the Passport office to help facilitate the ease of acquiring a U.S. Visa by foreigners who desired to work and live in America. It is my solemn prayer that the (FBI) collaborate with the relevant law enforcement agencies to nail the alleged perpetrators in this International debacle.

  6. Let’s put it this way, the seriousness of this alleged International threat with respect to Bahamian Work Visa being issued to or furnished for certain exploitative foreign Nationals to intentionally assist them to acquire a United States B1/B2 Visa to work and live in the United States where certain Top Brass of The Bahamas Immigration Department were implicated in this sort of corruption scheme, postulates and deepens the need for more expertise in corruption countermeasures. It also postulates and refashions the need for these high ranking individuals to stand before a tribunal or inquiry in grave matters such as this. Personally, I think the (FBI) is on to something, and I think they need to substantiate these allegations so that these alleged rogues could get lock away in solitary confinement.

  7. This is a US offense, let the US have these men for prosecution.

    I doubt their own government will adequately deal with them.

    In the US they will get 12 years if convicted.

  8. I consider the (FBI) to be a well oiled organization, and it is my view that this alleged International Visa fraud and bribery matter which implicated the Current Director of Bahamas Immigration and others would be thoroughly investigated by them as well as the anti-corruption unit of the Bahamian Police force, so that those alleged wrong-doers could face the full extent of the law.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.