Bahamas Immigration Fraud Case Illustrates Tough Enforcement Problems

By David North on October 15, 2018

Question: How does U.S. law enforcement tackle immigration fraud happening in another country without seeking the cooperation of that nation's officials — on the apparent grounds that some of them are not trustworthy?

Answer: By using a lot of resources, including undercover actors; the rare S-5 visa; money; creativity; and guile.

The Q & A above arises from a careful reading and re-reading of two documents filed in the federal courts in the District of Columbia last month, dealing with the arrest of an alleged Bahamian fraudster in Washington. Let's lay out a brief summary of the facts in the case, followed by some observations.

Some of the latter are based on what is not in those two documents. For example, there are no stated concerns in these documents about the honesty of the islands' officials; that is my speculation.


The would-be migrants to the United States were four Haitians living in The Bahamas and one Bahamian; all wanting to settle here though none were qualified to do so. The alleged principal conspirator used, or contemplated using, a range of techniques to get his clients to this country, including forgery, bribery, immigration-related marriage fraud, and smuggling. His name is Edward Israel Saintil, probably a native of Haiti, and the possessor of both Haitian and Bahamian passports. The main federal agency in the case was the FBI.

Here comes the guile: Following a two-year long investigation, which had a couple of setbacks to be noted later, Saintil was lured to Washington, expecting a major pay-off for his illicit activities, only to find himself being arrested late last month. He is now in a federal jail.

Separate indictments for Saintil, and for the other five, have been filed with the federal courts in the District of Columbia. The charging papers can be seen in the PACER files: for the Saintil the case is 1:18-mj-00116-RMM, and for the other five it is 1:18-cr-00289-PLF.


The two cases, primarily the one against Saintil, show the strength of this particular investigation, the weakness of other parts of our immigration system, two unexpected complications in this specific case, and some interesting sidelights.

Strengths. Acting on a tip about a U.S. visa being fraudulently obtained from the U.S. Embassy in Nassau, the feds enlisted the tipster, a citizen of Haiti and an American green card holder, as the first of three confidential human sources (CHS-1) to work on the case. Each was paid for lost time at their regular jobs, and reimbursed for travel and related costs. The use of these CHS's was central to the investigation; both CHS-1 and CHS-2 were legal residents of the United States of Haitian origin, were familiar with the Haitian communities in The Bahamas, and could move back and forth between Florida and The Bahamas. CHS-3, a Haitian national, was tasked with trying to obtain a visitor's visa from the U.S. Embassy. (He is the one who is getting an S-5 visa; these are issued at the request of a law enforcement agency and can lead to a green card after three years. They are not to be confused with the much more common U visas, which are sought by alien crime victims.)

With CHS-1 wearing a wire, he learned about Saintil's forging or buying employers' signatures, which along with bribes to Bahamian officials caused the issuance of Bahamian long-term work permits, which, in turn, are useful for third-country nationals seeking visitor visas from our embassy in Nassau. Similarly, with the tape running, Saintil discussed using a small boat to smuggle aliens from Bimini (the island closest to Florida) and the prospects of finding an American citizen to marry CHS-3. Saintil was paid by CHS-1 for some of his efforts with the local officials. All of these activities led to the creation of a highly detailed, 29-page affidavit in support of a criminal complaint, which, after being approved by the judge in the case, led to Saintil's arrest at the end of September.

An interesting, if not terribly significant strength of the Saintil criminal complaint is that it was well written, provided background information often missing in these documents, and was the first indictment I have ever seen with footnotes, helpful ones.

Meanwhile, and totally separately, a Haitian woman, Edna St Fleur, had fraudulently obtained a visitor's visa from the embassy, claiming to be an employee of the local branch of the Red Cross, doing, she said, good work in relation to HIV victims. (This was all fictional, and reviews of the Red Cross website in question, while naming staff members, never mentioned her.)

She managed to come to the United States once with this visa, and then returned to The Bahamas. Then she tried two other times to board planes to the United States, but was stopped each time by the pre-inspection process at the Nassau airport by officers of our Customs and Border Protection unit stationed there. They found her answers to questions to be of dubious honesty, and the second time around they seized her visa.

In short, the pre-inspection process worked exactly as it should. This is a useful operation that is rarely discussed. It is designed to head off illegal immigrants before they arrive in the United States, thus avoiding the much more expensive process of denying admission at U.S. ports of entry and returning them to the home country.

Weaknesses. The U.S. embassy should not have issued St Fleur a visitor's visa without checking her claim that she was working for the Red Cross.

The embassy should have been aware of the bribery apparently rampant in the long-term working permit system.

Given that much, perhaps most, of the Haitian population in The Bahamas arrived illegally, the embassy should have been more careful when Haitians sought visas there.

Complications. Early in the case, according to court records, "St Fleur told CHS-1 that she provided $2,500 to ... a man named Pierre Parisien, a Haitian national. ... Which Parisien shared with his business partner and an Embassy employee, who assisted Parisien in obtaining the visa [for her]."

That promising lead burned out when Parisien died in February of this year; given the deliberate lack of contact with the islands' government, I speculate that our people were in no position to ask for an autopsy. The embassy told the FBI that "his death was the result of an unspecified medical condition," a statement that appears in one of the footnotes.

Another, less drastic complication came when CHS-2, who had no previous police record, ran into a U.S. law-enforcement problem related to a repossessed car; that got itself solved without any FBI intervention.

Sidelights. In many cases, would-be illegal immigrants screw up their own plans by sheer ineptitude. In the case of St Fleur's failed efforts to get on the plane to Florida, on one of her subsequent attempts she did not have a return ticket to Nassau, and when asked had to admit that she had no hotel reservation in Florida. Further, her statements as to her island employment were not regarded as believable.

Finally, in one of the recorded conversations there was a discussion of the levels of bribery charges for long-term work permits, which had been set at $5,500; Saintil said that there was no possibility of diminishing the size of the payment because certain Chinese, eager to get to the United States, were offering Bahamian officials more than $10,000 for the same documents.

That reminded me that the cost of an illegal entry to the United States varies widely, even when the scheme is the same (such as in a cash payment for marrying a citizen); the perfectly transparent markets that we see in the stock exchanges are simply not replicated in the illegal alien trade.