Arrests of vacationing Americans in Turks and Caicos spark concern

Concerned about the recent arrests of two vacationing Americans in the Turks and Caicos Islands on gun-related charges, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is calling for authorities in the British-dependent territory to properly investigate the matter.

Nelson also said vacationing Americans need to be much more vigilant in keeping an eye on their luggage when traveling, and make sure they register with the U.S. embassy when traveling abroad.

On April 25 and 26, Turks and Caicos Royal Police charged Texas businesswoman Cathy Sulledge-Davis, 60, and retired neurosurgeon Horace Norrell, 80, of Sarasota, with carrying ammunition as they were departing the country at the Providenciales International Airport. There was no gun found in either case. The two were arrested and eventually allowed to return home after paying $4,000 in cash bail.

Nelson called the circumstances surrounding the arrests “unusual” and “mysterious,” and said he hopes Americans are not being preyed upon in a nefarious scheme.

“If I were the Turks and Caicos and knowing that my main source of income is American tourists, the last thing in the world is they need some kind of scheme that is shaking down Americans,” Nelson said. “What that will do is dry up their tourism if in fact this continues.”

Late this week , Nelson and Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz wrote to the U.S. Embassy in Nassau, Bahamas, which has responsibility for the Turks and Caicos Islands, asking if there have been other arrests of Americans on similar charges. The letter also asked U.S. Charge d’Affaires John Dinkelman to “convey to the proper authorities that the investigation needs to be expeditious, thorough, transparent and independent.”

“We fully respect the right of law in the Turks and Caicos,” Nelson said. “But when an incident occurs like this, the suspicions are aroused. Is this a shakedown of American tourists?”

As the tourists were leaving Turks and Caicos, airport agents informed them that bullets had been found in their luggage. Two different types of ammunition were found. In the case of Sulledge-Davis it was a .38 caliber.

A .9 mm bullet was found in Norrell’s luggage.

Last week, Neil Smith, spokesman for British governor Ric Todd, issued a statement from both Todd and Turks and Caicos Islands’ Director of Public Prosecutions JoAnn Meloche confirming the arrests.

Meloche said the investigation is ongoing and the matter has been adjourned until June 7 during which authorities will determine if there is enough evidence to move forward with the case or drop it.

Attorney Marcia Silver, one of the lawyers involved in the case, said both vacationers had stayed at different hotels and bullets were found in their luggage.

“We don’t know where the bullets came from,” Silvers said. “These charges are false. This evidence was planted.”

Located 575 miles southeast of Miami, the Turks and Caicos is a tourist haven that depends heavily on tourists from Europe and the United States who pay top dollar to vacation in the islands’ high-end resort.

The runway of the tiny Providenciales airport is usually packed with private jets of celebrities. Inside, the reservation desk is only a few paces away from the security checkpoint. Camera footage inside the airport is being reviewed, authorities said.

Norrell was forced to spend three days in jail. Island authorities said that he failed to show up to court in time and had to wait in jail until the court reopened on Monday.

Also complicating matters were the lack of cooperation by both tourists who refused to provide authorities with information, such as which taxi they took to the airport and if they left their bags unattended at any point.

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