By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
IMMIGRATION Director Clarence Russell and his predecessor, William Pratt, responded yesterday to references made to them in an affidavit that is part of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s probe of a local US visa scam.
The affidavit of special agent Kevin Grounaud details conversations the scam’s alleged lead conspirator, Edward Israel Saintil, had with undercover FBI informants. Saintil is alleged to have boasted of having relationships with top immigration officials.
He also alleged that immigration staff did not process work permits unless they are paid to do so.
Mr Grounaud said in the affidavit: “Saintil stated that he had a relationship both with the new director of immigration, Clarence Russell, as well as the former director of immigration, (William) Pratt. 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’.”
These were the only direct references to Mr Russell and Mr Pratt in the affidavit, although there are references by name to another high-ranking immigration official.
Yesterday, the immigration chief emphasised that the reference to him contained no allegation of wrongdoing on his part.
“I read the affidavit and it very clearly makes a statement with reference to my name but nowhere does it imply any culpability on behalf of myself,” he said.
Mr Russell, who reacted angrily to The Tribune’s questions, said he has access to several personal lawyers in addition to “sixty lawyers at the Office of the Attorney General”.
The Office of the Attorney General has not officially responded to news of the FBI’s probe, however. Attorney General Carl Bethel declined to comment yesterday.
Mr Russell said: “I am not reactive. I have nothing to be concerned about but rest assured some other people may.”
Mr Pratt, meanwhile, said he may have a comprehensive response to the matter at a later date, adding that he remains largely in the dark about what is going on.
“That’s an affidavit,” he said. “(Saintil) said what he wanted to say so that’s what he said.
“The only thing I can say at this time is I don’t recall ever meeting that man. I don’t know what he looks like. If they take an affidavit from someone and someone vaguely mentions your name – I personally have not, I cannot ever recall meeting him so that’s all I got to say at this time.”
For years, the US has warned about bribery and corruption at the Department of Immigration.
In its 2018 human trafficking report, the US said credible allegations of corruption at the department has made potential victims of human trafficking vulnerable in the Bahamas.
“…Alleged ongoing within the Immigration Department remained a concern,” the report said.
Last week, Mr Russell told ZNS News that several initiatives have been put in place, since he assumed his new post, to deter corruption. This includes technological advances, such as going paperless, as well as the creation of an anti-corruption unit, he said.