MIAMI — Norman Saunders, chief minister of the Turks and Caicos Islands, is stuffing his pockets with thousands of dollars. Some of the bills go in one pocket, some in another. Then the conversation turns to cocaine and planes, and everybody getting a good and proper share.
That scene, caught on videotape by U.S. drug agents and played in court here Wednesday, is part of the evidence against Saunders, charged with conspiracy to import cocaine and marijuana. He is the top elected official of the six-island archipelago, a British protectorate in the West Indies southeast of the Bahamas.
After viewing the tapes of Saunders talking with a confidential informant, U.S. Magistrate Herbert S. Shapiro set bond at $2 million. Shapiro said the large bond was necessary to ensure that Saunders, 41, did not simply return home and refuse to allow his own extradition.
"I want the assurances of the British empire," the magistrate said, setting conditions for any reconsideration of the bond.
In London, a British Foreign Office spokesman called on Saunders to resign. Noting that islands Gov. Christopher Turner--appointed by Queen Elizabeth II--has no power to dismiss elected officials, he said: "The government's view is that it is inappropriate to have a chief minister in these circumstances."
Saunders was arrested Tuesday in a Miami hotel room along with Stafford Missick, 47, the minister of commerce and development of the islands; Aulden (Smokey) Smith, 33, an island legislator; and Andre Fournier, 46, a Canadian who said in court that his primary business is dry cleaning. They were charged with a variety of conspiracy charges involving racketeering and the importation of cocaine and marijuana into the United States and face up to 30 years in prison if convicted.
Bond for Missick and Smith was set at $1 million.
Bond for Fournier was set at $5 million. On the videotape, he recommended that 10% of all drug profits be set aside as a bail fund. In case of arrest, he said, they could all jump bond and disappear into the Colombian mountains.
"This investigation has focused on public officials who were providing protection and sanctuary to narcotics traffickers in (the Turks and Caicos) islands," a federal government affidavit released Wednesday said.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration used an informant to make contact with the officials, the affidavit said.
"You know Norman Saunders, the prime minister?" the informant is quoted as asking Smith in January.
"Norman and I are like this," Smith answered, putting two fingers close together.
From there, according to the affidavit, Smith, Missick, Saunders and the informant forged plans to use the islands as a haven for drug shipments into the United States, as a refueling stop and as a place to launder profits through "friendly banks located at Grand Turk Island."
The officials, the affidavit said, agreed that their fees on upcoming drug flights would be $30,000 for marijuana and $250,000 for cocaine.
The document said also that Missick bragged of involvement with Robert Vesco, the millionaire financier who is a federal fugitive.