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Fbi Sting Blows Open Visa Scam

By AVA TURNQUEST

Tribune Chief Reporter

aturnquest@tribunemedia.net

A two-year FBI sting operation into visa fraud in the Bahamas has uncovered an alleged bribery ring between senior Bahamas immigration officials and a purported justice of the peace for fraudulent long-term work permits.

The US Federal Bureau of Investigations paid three Haitian nationals just under $50,000 to participate in the undercover operation, which has led to the arrest and indictment of four Haitians living in the Bahamas and one Bahamian, along with the alleged lead conspirator Edward Israel Saintil, who holds both Bahamian and Haitian passports.

Saintil is accused of encouraging and inducing illegal entry into the US, and was arrested in late September after he travelled to the District of Columbia to purportedly collect a $14,000 fee to smuggle a Haitian national into the country and arrange a marriage to a US citizen.

The FBI’s investigation kicked off in October 2016, and the bribery claims are detailed in an affidavit sworn by US federal agent Kevin Gounaud, who previously served in the US Coast Guard for 14 years.

In recorded meetings, Saintil boasted of close relationships with both current and former top immigration officials – saying he preferred one over the other because the official was more of a “businessman” – along with capacity to obtain fraudulent bank statements to support visa applications.

Saintil further claimed immigration officials did not process work permits unless they are paid to do so, adding that bribes to obtain fraudulent documents for Haitian nationals were the cheapest.

On January 10, Saintil met with the lead informant at a restaurant in Nassau and brought two women along. The conversation was recorded. They discussed the price of bribe payments to immigration officials, with Saintil saying the prices were inflexible due to competition from different nationalities also paying bribes.

“So that’s why they deal more with the Chinese. The Chinese paying like $10,000, $15,000 for just one work permit,” Saintil told the FBI’s lead informant.

“. . . Jamaicans pay a lot – and the Jamaican be the same amount, but the Spanish people – the Spanish and the Chinese. It's absurd they make money off. You know, they pay a lot of money.”

He also said: “That's why like, the only way, that when you see - to senior officer in the Immigration Department or some officers, when they ask you for set amount, so, you got to make sure like what they ask you for, you come with it, otherwise, you know, you might not get it, because like they have, like, some other nationality to make money off.”

Saintil had also claimed he was in possession of six or seven work permits, telling the FBI informant he had been holding them since December 2017 due to non-payment.

“Yeah, yeah, get into the US,” said Saintil during the January recorded conversation with the informant.

“I do, I do these application for people. I, I fill out the visa form for visa and everything, you know what I’m saying?

He continued: “So I’m not going to charge you big for, I’m just going to charge you the, the fee to put in the application like and do the bank letter to say that you should have an account. And then, you know, even like if you don’t have an account at the bank, I can get the letter… from the bank saying that you have some money in their account and blah, blah, blah.

“You know,” Saintil said, “we go from there. And the people, the person, the people who can sign for the permit, I tell you the signer is someone who have access, and the people have access to fly to the United State.

“So when they’re checking the system they’ll see the person who sign as the boss of, is someone who gonna have access to the United State, gonna make it easy for the person, for the application get a visa…I do visa applications and things. So I know how to make arrangement for them to be qualified to get a visa.”

Fees

Haitian nationals Kevin Desir, Johnlee Paul, Edna St Fleur, and an unnamed co-conspirator, along with Bahamian Pauline Pratt - alias Polena Sharmaine Pratt and Pauline Johnson – are facing charges of conspiracy and visa fraud.

It was St Fleur who introduced the US informants, referred to as confidential human sources (CHS) 1, 2 and 3, to Saintil.

It remains unclear whether there was any coordination with Bahamian law enforcement as the initial meetings between Saintil and the lead FBI informant (CHS-1) took place in Nassau on January 9 and 10, but all subsequent meetings were conducted in the US.

"Saintil told CHS-1 that he used money to create a path for his customers in immigration," Mr Gounaud’s affidavit read.

"Saintil explained that the immigration staff would ignore legitimate applications and would ‘...only work on the part where they're making money'.”

Saintil quoted the lead informant, CHS-1, $11,000 to obtain Bahamian work permits for the other two informants, CHS-2 and 3.

In addition to his own profits, Saintil broke down the payment for each permit as: $1,500 for the fake employer; $2,500 for an immigration official; $1,500 for related costs like application fee, labour certificate, advertisements, police and medical certificates, and miscellaneous payments to other officials.

The lead FBI informant paid Saintil $5,500 during a February 10 meeting at the airport in Fort Lauderdale, also providing a copy of CHS-3’s passport and passport photos.

The informant promised to pay Saintil an additional $500 if he brought the work permit back to the US, and that he would pay for CHS-2’s permit after he got the first permit.

Saintil told the informant $3,000 would be used to bribe a senior immigration official.

The pair met again at the airport in Fort Lauderdale in May, and Saintil told the informant that St Fleur was no longer trying to get a US visa, but instead was in the process of buying a Bahamian passport from him for $3,000.

Saintil then suggested the informant consider purchasing a marriage to a US citizen, stating there were advantages to obtaining US citizenship through fraudulent marriage compared to obtaining a US visa.

Saintil explained CHS-3 would be in the Bahamas legally due to his work permit, and a US citizen could come to the country to marry him. He said a marriage for one person would cost $13,000.

“In the Bahamas,” Saintil said, “he don’t have to go to Haiti to get marriage. ‘Cause he in Nassau, legally, with the work permit and thing. So anyone come in and marry him, all the process and be done, at the embassy.”

Saintil insisted he had executed such an arrangement for “plenty people” and had a perfect rate of success.

Saintil obtained a two-year work permit for CHS-3 as a handyman for his company Saintil's Painting and Cleaning Services on August 1.

The Tribune has withheld the name of the official who signed the permit. Saintil alleged he paid the immigration official $3,000 for the permit that same day.

On August 18, Saintil met with CHS-1 in Miami and provided him with the Bahamas work visa card for CHS-3.

During that meeting, Saintil told the informant it would cost more money to obtain a work permit for CHS-2 because of the problems and cost increases dealing with CHS-3’s document.

The informant paid a $1,100 deposit for CHS-2’s work permit; however, at the meeting, Saintil suggested the informant consider smuggling CHS-2 to the US by private boat.

“So I have a connection with a white man who has a boat – a private boat,” Saintil said.

“When people here I, I have like, um, a couple people who book with me already. He just go on his private boat. And then, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s something small, so but he, [stutters] it’s a lot, cost a lot. When I say a lot – $6,500 is the charge to do it.”

Saintil explained the boat left from Bimini to Miami or Ft Lauderdale, adding it was safe and trips were always successful.

The $6,500 did not cover the cost of air travel to Bimini, he said.

As for CHS-3’s arranged marriage, Saintil said his cousin assisted him with sourcing women.

The informant told Saintil he would be getting $16,500 for a new job in the District of Columbia in September, and would be ready to make the transaction. The pair agreed to meet again in DC on September 27, when the informant would pay Saintil $14,000 to smuggle CHS-3 into the country and arrange the marriage with a US citizen.

Saintil was arrested at that meeting.

Mr Gounaud previously worked for four years in the Caribbean Basin with focus on immigration enforcement and migrant smuggling enforcement operations concerning illegal entry from Haiti and the Bahamas.

The FBI agent noted his affidavit did not include all information known by the government, only the facts necessary to support the case.

• IN Saintil’s recorded statements he identifies three senior officials working in the Department of Immigration as being involved in his activities.

The Tribune, for the moment, has chosen not to name these officials so as to give the government time to look into the allegations.

Under the rules governing legal proceedings we would be fully protected under law to name these individuals.

The allegations are of such a serious nature the government should immediately be asking questions.

Payments to Immigration officials have long been suspected and now the proof appears to be there.

We asked for the government’s reaction to Saintil’s statement, but have yet to receive a response.

The government should be aware when Saintil’s case comes to court the names of everyone involved will be named in an open hearing with ourselves and US papers free to report.

Hopefully the government will be proactive and have sorted its house before that comes to pass.

Comments

Well_mudda_take_sic 11 months, 1 week ago

Every single current and former senior immigration official knows what has been going on under the table at the Ministry of Immigration for at least the past two decades or more. More importantly though, Brent Symonette who has been Minister of Immigration on more than one occasion also knows full well what has been going on.....and has turned a blind eye to it so long as it does not interfere with the issuance of work permits for his wealthy friends and his family's own businesses. And Minnis, like past PMs, lacks the ability to do anything about all of this and consequently there will be no serious investigation and pressing of charges to stamp out the rampant corruption within the Ministry of Immigration unless Minnis engages the FBI to do it. No one should hold their breath while waiting on the firing or charges to be pressed against a single one of the many corrupt senior immigration officials. Minnis only has the power and desire to tax all of us to death because he doesn't have an ounce of power to do anything else. Once again LMAO.

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bogart 11 months, 1 week ago

Dern insightfull......go to da head of the class.!!!......continued inaction...only leads recipe.... to next crew likely being... alternative party.... being more right wing...in harsher nationalistic views....as existing lack delivery of bring home the love to the people...right wing parties ....changes in world....5-6 in latin america....

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TalRussell 11 months, 1 week ago

What under any other governing administration would be a game changer alarming look at under da table set government comrade officials and political appointees. Another Imperial red shirts cabinet fail. Even red Imperials innocents are made look corrupt under this red regime.

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Sickened 11 months, 1 week ago

Thank God the U.S. gets involved in our affairs. Without them I don't think any major crimes would be investigated or prosecuted (definitely not properly). I often wonder if the police and lawyers intentionally screw things up just so criminals can get off on appeal.

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BahamaPundit 11 months, 1 week ago

Agreed. I believe the FBI will become more and more involved in rooting out corruption in this country, as it becomes more and more obvious that Bahamian leaders, even the most promising, do not have the testicular fortitude, personal integrity and intelligence to get the job done.

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MaryMack53 11 months, 1 week ago

The truth always comes to light! This kind of bribery and fraudulent behavior has been going on for years! Glad to see persons are being held accountable for their actions.

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birdiestrachan 11 months, 1 week ago

Sanital can what he said be proven true. There is always two sides to a story,

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bogart 11 months, 1 week ago

Thank you Uncle Sam for helping expose dis corruption an so it dont jeapordise the US Pre Clearing Section that Bahamians have enjoyed.

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TalRussell 11 months, 1 week ago

Flashback down memory lane what be said floor House of Assembly:
Moments after PM Minnis rose up out he House seat with urgency reveal he had plan for salary increases House MP's - Comrade House MP Bain and Grants Town Travis stood up says that House MP's should make $60,000 to $70,000 per year, likening their current pay to “janitorial salaries.” He said increasing the pay of politicians would help stamp out corruption.
{ Can't just be make such up }.

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TheMadHatter 11 months, 1 week ago

Ya beast !!!

God bless Donald Trump. Bless every strand of hair on his head.

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ThisIsOurs 11 months, 1 week ago

Good. Now KP could stop make ridiculous we're innocent pronouncements. It there. Fix it. This why things so expensive here people doing foolishness when they supposed to be working on real people tings

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TalRussell 11 months, 1 week ago

What the FBI may have uncovered is mere pocket change compared to the totality what comrade red shirts party has done brungs their red kinds legitimacy to corruption.
The reds thinks general elections as their best way swungs opens front doors to invite in political donations intended corrupt their candidates if elected take power. Campaign donors with their own agendas can corrupt the most well intended politicians. Campaign donations handed over secretly give them and their special interests agents top priority access and influence to the elected and define, set their own governing agendas and politics.

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ThisIsOurs 11 months, 1 week ago

I am wondering how much of the. Town centre hall money will make it to the campaign.

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DDK 11 months, 1 week ago

Politics 101. Corruption alive and well and flourishing in the Bahamas!

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SP 11 months, 1 week ago

This is elementary, common knowledge, everyday stuff, to everyone of Haitian decent in the country. They all know the intricate details, in's and out's, who to pay etc', of this type of fraudulent, corrupt immigration practices.

Nothing will be done, as no one could be prosecuted because the money trail does not stop at just senior immigration officials! These guys are just lackeys and frontmen for the BIG BOYS!

Anyone ignorant enough to believe senior immigration officials can conduct massive multi-multi-million-dollar fraud undetected by the powers that be for decades without the consent and involvement of leading politicians needs to have their heads examined!

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Schemer18 11 months, 1 week ago

They need to closed that loop hole in the Bahamas with gaining documents - Affidavits from these crooked JPs in which is causing a serious illegal underground practices, these illegals are giving the Bahamas a bad name. It is about time the Bahamas is exposed to these illegal practices to clean up this illegal immigration underground operation.

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BahamaPundit 11 months, 1 week ago

Now we know why the Government doesn't stop illegal immigration -- too profitable. They're a cash cow.

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BaronInvest 11 months, 1 week ago

I used to pay 500$ for the temporary residencies at the immigration office. One year we didn't pay and it took 2 years, so by the time we got the cards they were expired already. It's better to pay the bribes, then it only takes 2 weeks max.

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My2centz 11 months, 1 week ago

No its not better...it's a criminal act.

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joeblow 11 months, 1 week ago

Why are Bahamians not in the street protesting this blatant abuse of our system and processes? And why are the government and Opposition so quiet??

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DDK 11 months, 1 week ago

Interesting that! (I thinks it's called complicity lol.)

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licks2 11 months, 1 week ago

This is why we can't make any significant changes. . .no matter what is done or not done. . .yinna are the same dumb mixed up commentators who talk all kind of dumb nonsense. EACH OF YOU WHO Are pleaded with to stop talking nonsense and engage in true national changing dialogue but continue to carry on like fools. . .THIS YINNA DAMN BABY. . .A NATION ALL MIXED UP LIKE CONCH SALAD!!!! Carry on with yall dumb crap. . .if yall think the rest of the world won't come here and "tief" yinna eyes out while yinna carry on like dumb chirrins dem. . .hahahahahahahahahahaha. . . if yall think that yinna can carry on like jack asses and the rest of the world will sit on the side and leave yall conchs alone. . .KEEP RIGHT ON WITH YALL DUMB CRAP!! fLIPPIN BUNCH ER YARD BUKKIES. . .CAN'T EVEN STOP YA NONSENSE TO SAVE YA OWN NATION. I see why LOP told yinna that yinna don't deserve this nation for the way yinna carry on and bring a bad name to it. What a damn shame!!!!!

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DDK 11 months, 1 week ago

Have you looked in the mirror lately? You might should take a chill pill!

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PastorTroy 11 months, 1 week ago

If the U.S had to do it for us, what does this say about our elected officials for the past 45 years? Corruption and cronyism will one day be our downfall if we don't tighten up! Can this be why our government has been so soft on illegal immigration for decades? Make them scared and they will pay more money for their fake documents.

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concernedcitizen 11 months, 1 week ago

I,m surprised at people posting like this is something new .This has been going on since independence .Many MP or political generals had access to work permits so they could basically have indentured servants paying up to them .Old Man Stubbs under the bridge had a soda box full of permits for Haitians that worked on PI out east etc .Damm he must have had a 10,000 acre farm for all the Haitians he got permits for over the years lmao .He would charge more when the FNM was in b/c he claimed it was harder lol..This really says something about us as people selling our country ,remember our politicians ,immigration offiacals did not come from Mars ,they are Bahamians ,born of Bahamian parents.

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