By Ava Turnquest
Tribune Chief Reporter
HAITIAN-Bahamian Edward Israel Saintil, who was targeted in an explosive FBI undercover operation into US visa fraud in the Bahamas, will be deported to this country following his sentencing early next year.
Court filings state Saintil pleaded guilty to one count of encouraging and inducing an alien to come to the United States for the purpose of commercial advantage or private financial gain.
He consented to a forfeiture order for a Samsung Galaxy S8, and any property derived from or traceable to the proceeds obtained directly or indirectly from the offence.
A forfeiture money judgement for $7,100 has been entered, and the $1,329.80 in cash that was seized at the time of his arrest will be credited towards the judgment.
Saintil was arrested in late September after the FBI allegedly recorded conversations between him and paid informants over several months, in which he boasted of close relationships with both current and former top Department of Immigration officials and also claimed a capacity to obtain fraudulent bank statements to support US visa applications.
He told the lead FBI informant it would cost $11,000 to obtain Bahamian work permits for two Haitian nationals: $1,500 to get a fake Bahamian employer; $2,500 for the Department of Immigration official to approve the application; and another $1,500 for other expenses like application fees, labour certificate, police and medical records, and his profit.
Saintil settled on $10,500 to provide the work permits, and bank letters indicating the Haitian nationals had Bahamian bank accounts.
He obtained a labour certificate and work permit for one Haitian national, who, he said, was employed as a handyman for his company “Saintil’s Painting & Cleaning Services”.
The Tribune has withheld the name of the immigration official who signed the approval of the work permit.
Saintil also offered to arrange a marriage for one of the informants at a cost of $13,000, and smuggle either informant into the US on a private boat from Bimini for $6,500.
Before his arrest on September 27, Saintil met with the lead FBI informant in a hotel room in the District of Columbia, and received a total payment of $15,000 in three separate envelopes for the balance owed on the work permit; payment for the boat ride; and the arranged marriage.
According to prosecutors, the maximum sentence for this offence is ten years’ imprisonment; a fine of $250,000 or twice the monetary gain or loss of the offence; and an obligation to pay any applicable interest or penalties on fines and restitution not timely made.
Saintil is expected to be removed at the time of his sentencing in late February, or at the completion of his jail sentence if imposed.
In his supporting plea statement, Saintil conceded the entry of the judicial order of removal rendered him permanently inadmissible to the United States.
“I agree that I will not enter, attempt to enter, or transit through the United States without first seeking and obtaining permission to do so from the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, or other designated representative of the US government,” his plea statement read.
The FBI’s undercover operation kicked off in 2016 after agents were tipped off to claims a Haitian national living in the Bahamas - Edna St Fleur - had obtained a US visa fraudulently.
St Fleur, along with two other Haitians and a Bahamian woman, were also indicted in a separate case for allegedly conspiring to commit visa fraud.
While Bahamian Pauline Pratt has been sentenced and deported, and Haitian Johnlee Paul is under house arrest awaiting trial; Haitians Kevin Desir and St Fleur are reportedly still at large.
The statement of offence filed by US Attorney Jessie K Liu last week stated Saintil was paid $1,500 by a third party to obtain a Bahamian work permit for St Fleur sometime around summer or fall of 2017.
St Fleur attempted to enter the US on October 13, 2017, and provided a Bahamian work permit stating she was Saintil’s employee when questioned by US Customs and Border Protection.
“St Fleur never worked for defendant Saintil,” the court filing read. “Defendant Saintil never employed or intended to employ St Fleur.”