Fleeing the Country on a Cruise Ship: Not a Good Idea

April 17, 2008

On April 16, a federal judge ordered three defendants convicted in a corporate fraud case to remain in jail while awaiting sentencing. The reason? They were possibly plotting to flee the country ... via cruise ship.

Five executives of the now-defunct National Century Financial Enterprises, a health care financing company, were convicted March 13 in a scheme to defraud their investors. The judge had originally allowed the group to remain free until sentencing. But one of the executives disappeared last month and has yet to be located. A second was not deemed a flight risk.

However, the other three may have been plotting to escape on a cruise ship. A confidential informant gave testimony about a conversation he had with National Century's founder, Lance Poulsen, when they were both in jail. He claims that Poulsen explained how someone can enter a Caribbean island without a passport if he or she arrives via cruise ship. Given that the three remaining defendants may have been in communication with Paulsen and they did not testify that they weren't part of a conspiracy to flee the country, the judge ordered the men to remain in jail.

It is true that you don't need a passport to go on a Caribbean cruise from a U.S. homeport. However, that doesn't mean the government doesn't know where you are. Ship manifests are given to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, who review the list of passengers and crew and check for outstanding warrants and other red flags. If necessary, the government agency can work with foreign governments to have wanted criminals arrested prior to their return to U.S. shores. And passengers without passports still have to show birth certificates and government-issued ID cards.

Given the recent number of arrests of wanted criminals and drug smugglers onboard cruise ships (in February, a murder suspect was snared on Carnival's Celebration, and just this month there was a drug bust on Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas), we'd have to say the system is working pretty well.

--by Erica Silverstein, Associate Editor