• Adrian Fox: All human trafficking charges dropped
• Pleading guilty to endangering lives in operating boat
• Attorney: Offence ‘petty’; client ‘moves on’ after decade
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A co-founder of the Island Luck web shop chain has agreed a plea deal with US authorities that omits all mention of the human smuggling offences he was initially charged with.
Adrian Fox, in legal documents obtained by Tribune Business, has agreed to plead guilty to one count of helping to operate a vessel in US waters “in a grossly negligent manner” that endangered the lives of other unidentified persons.
Mr Fox’s US attorney, in a brief statement e-mailed to this newspaper last night, branded this offence as “petty” and indicated that the dropping of all charges and allegations related to human trafficking/immigrant smuggling by the US government represented a major victory for his Bahamian client.
“We are pleased that this decade-old issue is being resolved with a petty offence. Mr Fox will move on and focus on his business and philanthropic endeavours,” Alex Spiro said. However, his client has yet to be sentenced on the much-lesser count, which will occur before US district judge Denise Cote on June 25, 2021.
Papers filed with the southern New York federal court on March 25, 2021, revealed that Mr Fox and attorneys for the US Justice Department reached a plea agreement just months after the Island Luck co-founder’s bid to have decade-old human smuggling charges against him thrown out completely was rejected by Judge Cote.
Michael Herman, an assistant US government attorney, in a letter informing the judge of the plea bargain, wrote: “Since the court issued its decision on January 27, 2020, denying Fox’s motion to dismiss the indictment on speedy-trial grounds pursuant to the fugitive disentitlement doctrine, the parties have continued to discuss a pre-trial disposition of this matter.
“In May 2020, the parties reached an agreement in principal, as part of which Fox has agreed to plead guilty to a one-count superseding misdemeanour information charging him with aiding and abetting the grossly negligent operation of a vessel pursuant to a plea agreement with the government.”
Mr Fox’s signature, accepting and agreeing to the plea bargain, appears on a document where he consents to a US government probation officer conducting an investigation into his background as part of preparing a so-called “pre-sentence” report to help Judge Cote and the southern New York federal court determine what sentence to impose.
“I am aware that I have been charged with violations of federal law,” states the prepared text Mr Fox signed up to. “I have consulted with my attorney about those charges. I have decided that I wish to enter a plea of guilty to certain charges.”
Judge Cote ordered that the US government’s pre-sentence report on Mr Fox be submitted to the court by June 18, with any submissions on the Island Luck co-founder’s behalf made a week earlier on June 11.
And, given the US travel and immigration restrictions created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal authorities have agreed to wrap his “change-of-plea” and sentencing into one hearing, rather than hold them separately as is normally the case.
Given the relatively minor count he is pleading guilty to, it is highly possible that Mr Fox will avoid any US jail sentence, which marks a major reversal from as recently as January 2020, when Judge Cote branded him a “fugitive” from US justice after dismissing his bid to have the federal authorities’ case thrown out.
The Island Luck co-founder had previously argued that the human trafficking charges should be dismissed because the US government’s near 10-year failure to launch extradition proceedings against him had breached his “right to a speedy trial” - an objective he has now achieved through the plea bargain.
He was charged in a sealed April 4, 2010, indictment that was subsequently revealed three months later after his alleged co-conspirator, fellow Bahamian citizen, Mario Bowe, was arrested by US law enforcement.
Bowe, the son of the late Sir Lynden Pindling’s confidant, Felix “Mailman” Bowe, ultimately pled guilty in September 2010 and was sentenced to 33 months in prison in early 2011. He is understood to have been released from prison and returned to The Bahamas, but Mr Fox had remained outside the US judicial system’s reach ever since until now.
The pair were initially accused of masterminding a three-year human smuggling operation that involved bringing Chinese and other migrants into the US, arranging “transportation and safe houses” for them in The Bahamas while they waited to travel to New York Via Miami.
However, Mr Fox’s attorneys had earlier challenged their client’s labelling as “a fugitive” on the basis that he had never “set foot” in New York or the US when committing the alleged offences.
“The government has done nothing to bring Fox to justice other than reject every one of his efforts to negotiate a voluntary self-surrender,” they blasted. “The government had a constitutional duty to extradite Fox yet took no steps to do so for over nine years. It has offered no excuse for this apparently flagrant violation of Fox’s constitutional rights.”
Mr Fox was Mr Bastian’s 50/50 partner in Island Luck’s rapid expansion prior to the industry’s legalisation, regulation and taxation by the former Christie administration. He has remained in the public spotlight through the charitable activities of his Fox Foundation, which has previously financed an extensive neighbourhood clean-up in the Kemp Road area/Freetown constituency.
The foundation traditionally holds an annual Christmas block party and gift/food giveaway for residents in the same area, but switched its giving to a beautification project in 2019 just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.