By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
THE Haitian-Bahamian justice of the peace at the centre of an FBI probe into visa fraud in the Bahamas has pleaded not guilty to charges in the United States, The Tribune was told.
Edward Israel Saintil said yesterday he was currently out on bail and in Washington pending trial after emphatically denying the charge of encouraging and inducing illegal entry into the US.
He added he rejected a plea deal.
Meanwhile, local activists say they hope the allegations laid out in an affidavit prepared by an FBI agent on the two-year sting operation leads to a “crackdown” of any corruption there might be in the Department of Immigration.
Saintil holds both Haitian and Bahamian citizenship, and told The Tribune he was born in the Bahamas.
He was arrested in late September after the FBI allegedly recorded conversations between him and a paid informant, in which he boasted of close relationships with both current and former top immigration officials and claimed a capacity to obtain fraudulent bank statements to support US visa applications.
It is alleged that Saintil further claimed immigration officials did not process work permits unless they were paid to do so, adding that bribes to obtain fraudulent documents for Haitian nationals were the cheapest, according to the FBI agent’s affidavit.
Saintil obtained a two-year work permit for one informant, identified in the affidavit as 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 it was claimed in the affidavit, had signed the permit. Saintil alleged he paid the immigration official $3,000 for the permit that same day, according to court documents filed in the US.
He 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.
A search of the Company Registry by The Tribune uncovered only one business with the name Saintil - “Saintil Painting and Cleaning Services”. The company was registered on May 13, 2017.
Court documents detailing the FBI sting operation into US visa fraud in Nassau also name deceased activist Pierre Parisien as being involved in the scheme.
Parisien died earlier this year. He was president of the Haitian Organisation for the Prevention of HIV/AIDS & STDs (HOPHAS), a local non-governmental organisation.
His death in February was described as a “stunning blow” to Bahamian civil society and the Haitian-Bahamian community.
Among activists who spoke to Parisien’s legacy yesterday was Matt Albury of the Organisation for Responsible Governance.
“It’s a tough pill to hear because we were all so supportive of him and his work,” Mr Aubry said yesterday, “nothing but positive things for the community, he was dedicated to helping and speaking for those who had no voice.”
Mr Aubry added: “I think his contributions to the community and the organisation he supported do stand on their own. Whether or not (the claims) are true, his contributions are still his formative legacy. We hope that’s not tainted. His efforts were very grounded in need and value.”
Mr Albury reiterated his organisation’s call for the government to prioritise the Integrity Commission Bill and other planned anti-corruption laws.
Responding to bribery allegations uncovered in the court documents, activist Louby Georges told this newspaper: “These are the things you hear all the time, that corruption is rampant at the Immigration Department. Whenever immigration issues come up the negative focus is put on the migrants or persons waiting to be processed.”
He continued: “I just hope maybe the persons involved in this will be rooted out and named. We can have a new day after this where corruption can go out the window. You hear all these horror stories of files missing. Hopefully with this coming to light there can be a major crackdown over there.”