MIAMI — In secretly recorded conversations, a former FBI agent said he routinely arrested Bahamian criminal defendants in South Florida and unlawfully sent them back to their homeland on commercial airline flights without any formal review of their cases in U.S. courts.
The shocking admissions by retired FBI Agent Gerard "Jerry" Forrester, the FBI's Miami liaison officer in the Caribbean in the 1990s, surfaced this week as part of an unrelated civil court battle in the Bahamas between New York hedge fund billionaire Louis Bacon and Canadian fashion mogul Peter Nygard, who own estates in the Bahamas' exclusive Lyford Cay.
According to an affidavit of the audio recordings, Forrester said a Bahamian murder suspect was arrested in Miami, held briefly in jail, placed on a plane and later killed in police custody in the Bahamas. He said the defendant's death was brought to the attention of then-U.S. Attorney Janet Reno.
"I kidnapped him back to Nassau," Forrester said while being recorded last year by former Scotland Yard detective Alick Morrison, who was working as a private investigator for Nygard. "They had him for about 10 hours and the guy wound up dead."
Forrester, a private investigator now working with a former Bahamian cop who was cleared in the 1998 killing of the defendant in police custody, downplayed his statements on the tapes: "Yes, I did say it. Was it true? No. Why did I embellish? Because I brag," he said with a chuckle.
The affidavit, filed in the Bahamas along with Nygard's defamation case against Bacon and others, does not indicate how many times Forrester may have forcibly removed Bahamian fugitives from South Florida. The FBI in Miami declined to comment.
Under federal law, foreign nationals wanted on an arrest warrant issued in their native country have the legal right to challenge their extradition or removal in U.S. courts.
Take the case of Manuel Noriega, the deposed Panamanian strongman, who served 20 years in a federal prison in Miami-Dade for drug trafficking. He was allowed to fight his extradition to France on related money-laundering charges for more than two years before he was flown there in April 2010.
Noriega's lawyer, Jon May, who reviewed the affidavit with Forrester's recorded statements, said the federal government has an obligation to investigate his words and actions to determine if laws and rights were violated.
"Whenever you're taking someone into custody by stealth and delivering them to another police agency in a foreign country, you lose transparency," May said. "They can just disappear into some gulag, and (authorities) can act with impunity."
The undercover investigation that led to the recordings of Forrester began last summer. Then, Nygard hired the former Scotland Yard detective to investigate Nygard's neighbor in the Bahamas, Bacon, whom he was battling over property easement rights in court. According to his affidavit, Morrison's job was to uncover whether Bacon, Forrester and others were behind an unflattering profile of Nygard, the women's fashion designer, that was aired last year by the Canadian Broadcasting Company. The documentary was titled "Larger Than Life."
Morrison would eventually meet Forrester, a consultant for the TV program, who said he worked for Bacon. Forrester also worked with a former Bahamian police officer, Bradley Pratt, on private investigations in the Bahamas, including Lyford Cay. Forrester and Pratt had become close during their law enforcement careers.
Morrison posed as an investigator for a purported British fashion company that feared Nygard as a competitor and sought to hire Forrester to find out how he had dug up dirt on Nygard for the TV documentary. The evidence was eventually used for the defamation action filed by Nygard this week in the Bahamas.
Improbably, during recorded conversations in Miami, New York, the Bahamas and London, Forrester spoke openly not only about his personal dislike for Nygard but also about his exploits as a 30-year FBI agent.
Last September, Forrester detailed how he had arrested a Bahamian man in Miami's Overtown neighborhood in the 1990s and identified him as Bradley Taylor. Forrester said he was wanted on murder charges related to bank robberies.
"Oh, I kidnapped him," Forrester was recorded saying, without providing an exact date. (The arrest happened in early1998, according to public records.)
"I did it all the time. ... All the time for 20 or 30 years," he said.
Morrison then said: "Well, you can't just pack somebody up and put them on a plane."
"We did it all the time," Forrester said, going into greater detail about the arrest of the Bahamian man in Overtown.
He said that he and a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., police officer, Dave Dittman, who worked on a federal fugitive task force, nabbed Taylor at 10:15 p.m. one night, but a plane was leaving 45 minutes later from Miami International Airport for the Bahamas. So, Forrester said, he and Dittman put the murder suspect in the Fort Lauderdale police jail, then returned to MIA at 5 a.m. the next morning to catch a flight to the Bahamas.
He said Dittman accompanied Taylor to Nassau and also took a picture of him with the plane behind him. Dittman could not be reached for comment at the Fort Lauderdale Police Department.
Forrester said Taylor was turned over to Bahamian police officers, including Pratt.
A few days later, Forrester said, he went to the Bahamas on a regular visit and learned that Taylor had been killed in the custody of the Royal Bahamas Police Force. Taylor, 29, died in January 1998, public records show. Taylor's family held a protest in front of the U.S. Embassy, claiming Bahamian police officers beat him to death. The Bahamian government conducted a coroner's inquest.
The matter also made its way to Reno, the U.S. attorney general, who had previously served as the state attorney in Miami-Dade.
All of the Bahamian officers were cleared in the Bahamian inquest, records show.
But Forrester told the former Scotland Yard detective: "Nobody knows we did anything wrong. Bradley Taylor's dead. It's never come back to haunt me. And our buddy Bradley (Pratt) did it."
But Pratt said he was not involved in any way in Taylor's death, nor did he ever collaborate with Forrester in transporting Taylor or any other Bahamian fugitives from South Florida to his country.
Asked about the alleged kidnappings in Morrison's affidavit, Pratt said: "I can categorically tell you that's a lie. The Bahamian government would not engage in such activity, nor tolerate such activity."
Pratt said that Forrester has a tendency to "run off at the mouth."
In an interview, Forrester said his recorded statements were the result of former "cops talking to cops."
He said the former Scotland Yard detective's affidavit was "all baloney."
He said he never forcibly removed any Bahamian fugitives from Miami. "That was embellishment," he said of his recorded statements. "Everybody who was transported agreed to go."