By Youri Kemp
Caribbean News Now associate editor
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.