• Urges ‘termination of proceedings’ against Adrian Fox
• Island Luck co-founder helped end ‘gaming underground’
• Ex-FBI agents, ministers all sing praises before sentence
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Prime Minister has urged a US judge to end the federal authorities’ pursuit of Island Luck’s co-founder, writing: “I strongly advocate termination of proceedings against Mr Adrian Fox.”
Philip Davis QC, in an August 10, 2021, letter to Judge Denise Cote, hailed Mr Fox’s role as a key player in efforts to legalise the Bahamian web shop sector, which he described as “an industry that long plagued our nation’s underground”.
The letter, which was written just over a month prior to Mr Davis’ election as Prime Minister, was filed in the southern New York district court on Friday as one of many character references urging Judge Cote to impose a light, non-custodial sentence upon Mr Fox over the role he played in a human smuggling operation more than a decade ago.
Mr Fox’s plea deal with US authorities, which omits all mention of the human smuggling offences he was initially charged with, has resulted in him agreeing to plead guilty to one count of helping to operate a vessel in US waters “in a grossly negligent manner”.
He is due to be sentenced on October 15 and, in a bid to persuade Judge Cote to impose just a fine, probation and 100 hours of community service to be performed in The Bahamas, Mr Fox’s US attorneys have turned to the ‘great and good’ of Nassau’s society to drive home the community benefits gained from their client’s charitable and philanthropic needs.
Besides Mr Davis, character references were also supplied by two of his newly-elected Cabinet ministers, Jomo Campbell, minister of state for legal affairs, and Alfred Sears, minister of works and utilities. Both men and their law firms provided legal services to Mr Fox and his companies prior to their election as MPs and Cabinet ministers, and their letters were also written in August 2021.
Two ex-Cabinet ministers also vouched on Mr Fox’s behalf, Shane Gibson and Leslie Miller. And further character references were submitted by Mr Miller’s daughter, Leslia Miller-Brice, the newly-elected Seabreeze MP, and her husband Leander, who operates the Asure Win web shop chain and is the Island Luck co-founder’s nephew.
Testimonies from two ex-FBI agents; multiple Bahamian clergymen; two UK expatriates who are neighbours of Mr Fox in Ocean Club Estates on Paradise Island; and other attorneys, business partners and persons aided by Mr Fox’s generosity rounded out the character references.
Intriguingly, no references were supplied by former prime minister Perry Christie, under whose watch web shop gaming was legalised, or Sebas Bastian, his business partner and fellow co-founder of the Island Luck web shop chain, which is widely regarded as the industry leader with the biggest market share.
There can be little doubt that Mr Fox’s Fox Foundation, and charitable and philanthropic deeds, including the scholarships provided to young people, have benefited hundreds of underprivileged persons living in depressed communities of New Providence and elsewhere in The Bahamas. And his assistance during Hurricane Dorian and COVID-19 was equally valuable.
However, several sources said the names of those providing character references, and the nature of what they have written, provides further evidence of the depth - and breadth - of the web shop gaming industry’s reach and influence throughout Bahamian society - especially among politicians and the clergy.
Web shop gaming was legalised, regulated and taxed under the former Christie administration, in which Mr Davis held the post of deputy prime minister. No recognisable Free National Movement (FNM) figures provided character references on Mr Fox’s behalf; just persons associated with the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP).
Mr Davis, in his letter, made clear that he was writing as Mr Fox’s friend, and his views could not be attributed to the office he then-held, Leader of the Opposition, or the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP). The same will doubtless apply both to his new post, as Prime Minister, and the Government. He also disclosed that the letter was written at Mr Fox’s request.
Revealing that he first met Mr Fox in the mid-1990s, when the latter approached Mr Davis’s law firm, Davis & Co, to handle legal matters for him, Mr Davis wrote: “Since that time, we developed a friendship that I cherish. From him, I have learned the true value of a second chance...........
“It has been a very satisfying experience to watch him reorder his life to become a contributing member of society... For the most part, it was upon his tenacity, insistence and positive actions that The Bahamas regularised the gaming industry in The Bahamas - an industry that long-plagued our nation’s underground.”
After detailing Mr Fox’s tough upbringing “in one of the most socially and economically depressed areas of New Providence”, and his commitment to family and the church, Mr Davis reiterated: “Adrian is my friend - an exemplary citizen. Friends have obligations one to another to ensure the welfare of each other.
“He personally walks the beat to say to young men that they should remain on the ‘straight and narrow’ path. Today, he is the poster boy for reform.” Noting that the US charges have been hanging over Mr Fox for almost a decade, having first been filed in 2012, Mr Davis argued that it was time to bring the judicial proceedings to an end.
He urged Judge Cote: “In view of the foregoing, and given this circumstance that has been his constant shadow of uncertainty and anxiety for an inordinate period of years, I strongly advocate termination of proceedings against Mr Adrian Fox.”
Jerry Forrester, the former supervising FBI agent for the northern Caribbean, including The Bahamas, said he was first introduced to Mr Fox in 2011 by Mr Davis, acting as his attorney. “Mr Davis advised me of Mr Fox’s indictment in the southern district of New York, which I understood related to the smuggling of Chinese immigrants into the United States,” Mr Forrester wrote.
This sounds like Mr Davis made an approach to seek Mr Forrester’s assistance to see if he could alleviate Mr Fox’s predicament. However, that could not be confirmed, because the rest of Mr Forrester’s letter is blacked out, until he says of Island Luck’s co-founder: “In my estimation he deserves a medal, not a prison sentence...
“What started as a business relationship has turned into a friendship, and I am proud to be a friend of Adrian Fox.” Another retired FBI special agent, Anthony Velazquez, praised Mr Fox in equally glowing terms.
Similar testimony was provided by Mr Campbell, now-minister of state for legal affairs, in an August 19, 2021, letter where he described Mr Fox as “a firm believer that everyone should be treated equally regardless of their race, sex, religion or socio-economic background, he is unresolved in his pursuit for fairness in the gaming industry”.
And Mr Gibson said he never hesitated in referring many of his needy Golden Gates constituents to Mr Fox when he was MP for the constituency between 2002 and 2017. “I referred many of my constituents in Golden Gates, who were in need of assistance, to Mr Fox,” he told Judge Cote.
“Without a second thought he assisted complete strangers, including a student who needed funds to pay tuition for her last semester in college. Another constituent of mine was diagnosed with cancer but had no medical insurance to fund his treatment. Mr Fox stepped in and assisted with medical bills.
“I also introduced Mr Fox to a woman who was about lose the home she had lived in for 20 years after she lost her job and defaulted on her mortgage payments. Thanks to his kindness, she kept her home.”
A business partner, Amit Mor, said Mr Fox’s investment has enabled him to fulfill his life’s dream by establishing a retail store in downtown Nassau. Using corporate names such as NWL Group, Caribbean Sea Minerals and Natures Well Ltd, the letterhead shows it operates from a base at the corner of Bay Street and Charlotte Street.
“We have invested all our life savings in a dream and opened a retail store at the downtown area,” Mr Mor wrote. “It took about six months until we understood that opening a business in a foreign country is not a walk in the park. A family friend of my wife said he knows a guy that might be able to help us out.”
That “guy” happened to be Mr Fox, and Mr Mor wrote: “We had nothing interesting to offer Mr Fox besides our dreams and hard work. Luckily for us, Mr Fox decided to invest in our dream and partner up with us.
“Today, after five years of great business relations and a lot of hard work, the good deeds of Mr Fox created a business in The Bahamas that employees over 70 Bahamians, each one feeding a family.
“In my belief, only a pure intention to help can result in such a great outcome. Through the past year, as the pandemic affected the Bahamas and our retail business, Adrian and his family supported us not only financially but have been there for us as family.”
And Dirk Simmons, Island Luck’s chief financial officer, added that Mr Fox’s property development companies employ more than 500 full-time Bahamian workers, plus part-timers and independent contractors. He added that they had participated in developing four major residential real estate projects, introducing 300 new homes to the market. Neither the companies nor projects were named.
The Bahamian clergymen offering testimonies were Father Reginald Demeritte, pastor of St Theresa’s Catholic Church; retired archdeacon James Palacious; and Pastor Raymond Wells of Living Waters Kingdom Ministries.
Mr Fox’s US attorneys, in their sentencing proposals, sought to further minimise and downplay their client’s role in human trafficking. They argued that he had played “a limited role”, and had “voluntarily withdrawn from the conspiracy years before it was ‘taken down’ by law enforcement”.
“He deeply regrets the decision he made 13 years ago to commit this offense, and he has tried ever since to make amends,” the US attorneys argued. “Mr Fox’s crime of conviction – aiding and abetting the grossly negligent operation of a vessel – accurately describes his limited role in a much larger operation that resulted in criminal charges against him and many others.
“Other participants in the operation arranged for undocumented immigrants to travel from China to New York City. Mr Fox’s role was to help house the immigrants at one way-stop (The Bahamas) and then bring them to the boat that would take them to another way-stop (Miami).
“During those boat trips, which lasted two to three hours, there were sometimes too few life preservers and too little food and water for the number of people on the boat, making the boat’s operation grossly negligent. This is a misdemeanor, for which defendants routinely receive non-incarceration sentences.”
Mr Fox’s attorneys argued that “the seriousness of his conduct” was brought home to their client when The Bahamas enacted the Trafficking in Persons (Prevention and Suppression) Act in December 2008.