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Turks and Caicos travel warning from mom of convicted US tourist

NBC10 Boston first broke the story about American tourists who have been charged with possession of ammunition after vacationing on the islands of Turks and Caicos. Upon conviction, the charge comes with a mandatory minimum sentence of 12 years in prison, except where the court finds exceptional circumstances.
There are currently three U.S tourists being held on bail for firearms and ammunition prosecutions, according to a statement released Wednesday by the Turks and Caicos Islands Attorney General’s Chambers and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Consumer investigative reporter Leslie Gaydos spoke with Teresea Pfau, the mother of an Indiana man who was released in February after receiving an eight-month prison sentence on the Island. She is speaking out after learning there are more U.S. citizens potentially facing a similar fate as her son.
“It has been one of the most traumatic times of my life,” Pfau shared.
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She says she is closely following the story of Americans Ryan Watson and Bryan Hagerich, who are currently detained in Turks and Caicos Islands on charges of possession of ammunition.
The U.S. State Department is warning travelers about strict new laws in Turks and Caicos Islands that carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 12 years for bringing guns or ammunition to the island. Follow NBC10 Boston on… Instagram: instagram.com/nbc10boston TikTok: tiktok.com/@nbc10boston Facebook: facebook.com/NBC10Boston X: twitter.com/NBC10Boston
Pfau’s son Michael Grimm was sentenced last year for the same offense.
“It’s very heartbreaking because I know the pain that they’re going through,” Pfau said.
Family photo Michael Grimm
Her family was vacationing in the British Overseas Territory last August when her son mistakenly brought ammunition in a bag he used during a previous trip, according to Pfau.
“He did not have a gun. And, you know, there was no violence involved. And so we really did hold out hope that he would possibly get a very hefty fine,” said Pfau. “Maybe he would get, you know, barred from ever returning. But once everything was set into motion, you know, it was a devastating experience.”
She said the family spent more than $100,000 on an extended stay, bail money and attorney fees and were constantly worried about Grimm’s safety.
“It was the hardest time in my life and for our immediate family, and feeling helpless that there was nothing that we could do,” Pfau said.
“Just the trying to arrange to see him or speak with him was the biggest, I think, barrier,” Pfau shared about the experience of having her son in prison on the Island, adding, “knowing the conditions — the prison had been sanctioned by the U.N. for unsanitary conditions.”
She told Gaydos she often worried about whether or not her son was safe or healthy.
Grimm spent more than five months in prison in Grand Turk before being released in February. Pfau said she and her son are still processing their traumatic experience.
“We both have sought professional services to help us deal with this trauma and this PTSD, so it’s not behind us. So we’re just trying to figure out how we can be helpful to others who may be in this situation and how we can make a change, whether it’s through the embassy, the travel alerts or in any way that we can. We don’t want anyone else to ever have to experience this,” Pfau said.
At a State Department news conference, a representative addressed the detainment of Watson and Hagerich: “We’re aware of the arrest of U.S. citizens in Turks and Caicos. When a U.S. citizen is arrested, we stand by ready to provide all appropriate consular assistance, but in a foreign country, U.S. citizens are subject to the country’s laws, even if they may differ from what is law in the United States.”
On Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy in the Bahamas re-issued an alert urging all travelers going to Turks & Caicos Islands to carefully check their luggage for stray ammunition or forgotten weapons before departing from the United States.
And the Turks and Caicos Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions issued a statement Wednesday saying the islands’ firearm ordinance “requires the Supreme Court to impose a mandatory minimum sentence and fine for certain firearm offenses, except in circumstances where the court finds that there are exceptional circumstances.”
The statement went on to add that there have been five separate cases within a two-year period where the Supreme Court of the islands found exceptional circumstances: only four of the offenders were fined and one was given a custodial sentence below the mandatory minimum.
Grimm’s eight-month sentence was below the mandatory minimum of 12 years in prison.
The director of public prosecutions said in their statement, “8 firearms and ammunitions prosecutions in total were done involving tourists from the United States, 3 of which are currently before the court with each of the defendants on bail.”
Ryan Watson is one of those three. He was let out on bail today pending his next hearing.

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