By LAMECH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
A MAGISTRATE yesterday expressed concern for the “red flags” raised from the marriage certificates and spousal permit applications of four Dominican men seeking bail ahead of a trial for illegal fishing.
Magistrate Andrew Forbes told Jamal Davis, lawyer for Noel Vasquez, 22, Pedro Diaz, 27, Nathaniel Peralta, 28 and Juan Garcia, 36, that the “red flags” raised the question of whether their marriages to four Bahamian women were of convenience.
They, along with Manaces Lora, 47, and Haitian Jeantal Nicholas, are to stand trial in February 2015 after they pleaded not guilty to illegally fishing in Bahamian waters between September 28 and October 4.
Lora and Nicholas were granted bail last Friday after it was revealed that the former had a spousal permit approved by the Department of Immigration and the latter had a work permit that was valid until 2016.
The magistrate adjourned the question of bail for the remaining defendants to give their spouses and the Immigration Department time to provide the court with evidence of their legal status.
The spouses, whose identities are being withheld, appeared for yesterday’s proceedings, as did Kendal Rahming, a Department of Immigration prosecutor.
Magistrate Forbes said he was in possession of copies of the marriage certificates as well as receipts for spousal permit applications.
According to the documents, the magistrate said, Peralta, on September 9, was married to a woman by Reverend Kenneth L Burrows in the presence of three witnesses, including Vasquez.
Then on September 11, Garcia was married to a woman by the same justice of the peace in the presence of three witnesses, including Diaz.
Also married on the same day, through Rev Burrows, was Vasquez in the presence of Garcia and his new bride.
Diaz was married 12 days later on September 23; the ceremony was witnessed by Peralta and another person.
Magistrate Forbes then went on to highlight that the spouses of the accused filed spousal permit applications on September 17, two on September 18 and another on September 26.
The receipts and their content were confirmed by Mr Rahming.
Magistrate Forbes then addressed Mr Davis and asked: “If there’s no correlation between these parties, how are some of them witnesses to each others weddings?”
“My instructions are that none of the women knew each other,” the lawyer replied. He said that this was not the case for the accused, who knew each other and communicated with each other up to five months before the weddings.
“I don’t think there’s any prohibition of them standing as witnesses for each other,” the lawyer submitted.
“The reason why I am raising that point is because it raises red flags as to whether or not these are marriages of convenience,” the magistrate replied. “Because if they are”, he added, “they will also raise flags as to whether there’s been approval for the permits.”
“On the face of it, the documents appear to be valid. But what is also interesting is the applications for the permit came shortly after those weddings took place,” the magistrate said.
Mr Davis conceded that the proximity of the events “can create that inference of convenience, but that could also not be the case.”
“Neither is it the appropriate forum for that question without all of the facts,” the lawyer submitted.
Magistrate Forbes noted that the factors with which the court was concerned in determining or rejecting bail is whether they would reappear for trial and provide proof of their ties to the jurisdiction.
“If there is any doubt to the legitimacy of the documents, then I would have to err on the side of that doubt. The court is not ignorant to the circumstances in the Bahamas where persons participate in marriages of convenience, not to say that your clients are, but we don’t,” the magistrate said.
He cited Lora and Nicholas as examples of having sufficient proof of ties to the jurisdiction and noted that “in the case of these four defendants, there is no documents approving their spousal permits.”
“Immigration may have not gotten around to it,” Mr Davis replied, attributing the delay to “an issue of administration.”
Mr Davis maintained that his clients marriages were legitimate and that Garcia would be a father in the coming months.
“This isn’t a case where they’re running for their lives,” Mr Davis said.
He added that the maximum punishment for the offences is a $2,000 fine and/or six months imprisonment, which would not be likely given it is their first run-in with the law.
Mr Davis added the there were persons on bail for murder, a much more serious offence than illegal fishing.
When asked by the magistrate for his position on the matter, police prosecutor ASP Ercell Dorsett objected on bail because the defendants “have no ties to this country.”
The prosecutor said there were discrepancies in the documents that contradicted the spouses’ claim of not knowing each other. The prosecutor drew the court’s attention to the permit applications all bearing the same mailing address.
This, he said, does not take into account the other issues raised by the court.
Magistrate Forbes asked the immigration prosecutor for his input on the likelihood of a decision being made on the permits in the near future and what would happen to the accused if the permits were not approved.
Mr Rahming said a unit, mandated to investigate legitimacy of marriages after spousal permit requests are submitted, was still carrying out their investigations and should be concluded within two weeks.
If the requests were rejected, he added, then the applicants would receive notice of this and the accused, having no legal status, would be advised to leave the country immediately.
Mr Davis said the decision could be appealed.
The magistrate said he would deliver his decision on bail at noon on October 27.