By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
A JAMAICAN man - who claims that he was born in The Bahamas and was being denied entry into the country after being deemed an “undesirable” - has been sentenced to more than two decades in a US prison for running a human smuggling operation.
Michael Stapleton, 44, - placed on the stop list by the Department of Immigration in 2017 - was found guilty by a US federal jury of 47 counts related to the human smuggling scheme.
According to court records, he was extradited to the US last year and sentenced on Thursday, July 11 to 21 years and ten months.
Prosecutors say Stapleton coordinated the smuggling of undocumented immigrants to the United States from around the world through Freeport, Grand Bahama. Witnesses testified Stapleton used the vulnerability of the immigrants to exploit them by demanding more money from them after they were in his power, keeping them in deplorable conditions, mistreating them and sending them out in unsafe boats.
In November 2017, Stapleton told The Tribune he was being denied entry to the Bahamas and was forced to live in Jamaica – a country he claimed he knew nothing about or had any ties with. He said he was born in the Bahamas to an unwed Bahamian father and a foreign mother who is from Jamaica.
Stapleton had lived in Grand Bahama and was raised by his Bahamian father in the Eight Mile Rock community and was educated in the public school system. He said he has children, a home and businesses in Grand Bahama.
Stapleton claimed he applied for his Bahamian citizenship and that he had been called in to take the pledge before then-Director of Immigration Jack Thompson, and was told that his citizenship was awaiting approval before Cabinet.
However while residing in Grand Bahama, Stapleton was charged with a number of offences, including a shooting in 2012, drug possession in 2013, and then assault of a public officer, threatening to kill six immigration officers, disorderly behaviour, and overstaying in 2014.
Stapleton had pleaded guilty to the assault charge, but previously told this newspaper he was not convicted of any of the other offences, which he claimed were all withdrawn and dismissed.
In August 2017, Bahamian police issued a bulletin for Stapleton, saying he was was wanted for questioning in connection to a theft by reason of service. He told The Tribune in November 2017 that when he went to police inquire about it, he was told he was not wanted.