Police have made a significant breakthrough in cracking a major ring involved in human trafficking with the United States being the primary destination.
Two well known nationals – Lester Smith and Nigel “German” Mc Kie were arrested and charged in court on Monday with the operation of a Visa scam in which a number of persons were allegedly charged a fee to assist them to gain entry into the United States.
A well-placed source told THE NEW TODAY that the scheme might have started sometime in 1991 and the evidence seems to indicate that some persons were charged between EC$300 and in some cases as much as EC$3, 000 to get into the U.S.
Smith and Mc Kie appeared in court Monday before Chief Magistrate, Tamara Gill in the St. George’s N0. 1 Magistrate’s Court on indictable fraud and forgery related charges and granted bail in the sum of $50, 000 each.
It is alleged that Smith, in his capacity as Technical Director of the Grenada Football Association (GFA) took advantage of his authority by using the company’s letterhead to assist persons in obtaining United States visas.
The 46-year-old Tempe resident, is facing 5 counts of forgery, 4 counts of possession of forged document and 1 count of conspiracy to forge, while Mc Kie, a 56 year, Basketball Coach from The Carenage is charged with 1 count of conspiracy to forge and 1 count of possession of forged document.
The two are also jointly charged with 5 counts of conspiracy to utter a forged document.
Police detained Smith and Mc Kie last week Wednesday following the findings of an ongoing investigation by the US Embassies in St. George’s and Bridgetown, Barbados into what was identified as false into what was identified as false declarations in some visa applications by applicants who were attempting to travel with the women football team to Puerto Rico last August.
Due of the seriousness of the offences brought against the two suspects, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) is leading the Police Prosecution in the matter.
Acting DPP Howard Pinnock did not object to bail for the defendants as request by their defense counsel, Attorney-at-Law Peter David; however, he suggested that the bail granted reflect the seriousness of the allegations brought against them.
As part of their bail conditions, Smith and Mc Kie have been ordered to report to Central Police Station on the Carenage every Monday and Friday between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m.
The two will also have to surrender all travel documents to the court; have no contact with the Prosecution witnesses and not leave the state without the consent of the court.
The Acting DPP also indicated that the State will move to have a paper committal in the matter in the interest of saving judiciary time since the charges against Smith and Mc Kie are all indictable.
THE NEW TODAY understands that the police are focusing attention on the Grenada Olympic Association (GOA) where information seem to suggest that the organisation was used to help facilitate human trafficking into the United States.
Speculation is rife that officials within the island’s major sporting bodies will approach the U.S for visas for team members to travel to the United States and will slip in the names of several human traffickers.
A source confirmed to this newspaper that the police have unearthed that those involved in the scam were recruiting persons mainly in Happy Hill, Gouyave and St. George North-east.
The NEW TODAY understands that a total of eight witnesses have been lined up by the Prosecution including an official from GFA to give evidence in the court matter.
In a statement issued Tuesday, the local Football association affirmed that in keeping with its professional integrity and mandate, it will seek to assist law enforcement in whatever way possible regarding investigations launched into allegations of US visa fraud against its Technical Director.
The GFA expressed concern about the Association’s integrity and its professional work noting that such allegations, whether true or not, often tend to detract from the good work that the organisation is involved in to promote and develop football in the country.
The Association avoided making any statement as it relates to Smith’s employment with the sporting body, stating that “as the matter is now in court, it was unable to make any detailed public comment and await the outcome of those proceedings.”
The GFA gave assurance that it will advise on its own internal steps in due course.
Both Smith and Mc Kie are facing a minimum of 5 years to a maximum of 15 years imprisonment and are due back in Court on December 8.