Former Turks and Caicos Chief Minister Sentenced to Eight Years
MIAMI (AP) _ Norman Saunders, former chief minister of the Turks and Caicos Islands has been sentenced to eight years in federal prison for his part in an alleged scheme to offer the islands as a drug-smuggling stopover.
″I made a serious error and I’m deeply and truly sorry for what I have done. If justice requires that I be sent to prison, so let it be,″ Saunders told the judge at Friday’s sentencing.
Stafford Missick, 47, Saunders’ minister of commerce and development, was sentenced to 10 years in prison. The jury convicted him on a cocaine importation charge.
The two men were also fined $50,000 by U.S. District Judge John Moore III of Jacksonville, who said, ″This is one of the most difficult sentences I have ever had to impose.″
″Each of you has reached high public office in your country, but I had to treat this case as if you were public officers of the United States,″ Moore said.
Saunders, 41, was convicted July 19 of conspiracy to travel and actual travel in furtherance of a crime, but was acquitted of drug importation charges.
During their trial, federal prosecutors said the defendants had offered to allow drug smugglers traveling between Colombia and the United States to land on the Turks and Caicos for refueling in return for cash payments.
Nathaniel Francis, leader of Saunders’ Progressive National Party, who succeeded him as chief minister of the British territory, made a plea for leniency.
″The people of the islands begged me to come here and speak for him,″ said Francis.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Gregorie said the two were aware of the consequences of their acts.
Both have been held in custody since their March 5 arrest.
Also arrested at the time was Aulden Smith, 33, a junior minister of works of the Turks and Caicos, and Canadian businessman Andre Fournier, 46. Smith pleaded guilty to cocaine conspiracy charges and Fournier to conspiracy to violate the travel act, and are awaiting sentencing.