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Cuba Returns US Fugitive as Bilateral Diplomacy Takes Hold

FILE - U.S. and Cuban flags fly. The countries re-established diplomatic relations earlier this year following a half century of estrangement.

Cuba has sent home an American fugitive wanted by U.S. authorities on firearms charges, marking the first such return since Havana and Washington restored diplomatic ties in July after more than five decades.

U.S. marshals say Cuban authorities arrested suspect Shawn Wegmann on October 31 as he arrived on Cuban shores from the U.S. island city of Key West in a stolen boat. U.S. officials say Cuba notified marshals days later that Wegmann had been detained and say he is now in custody in Miami.

Authorities say the suspect, who was free while awaiting trial in the Midwestern state of Iowa on a host of firearms charges, ripped off a GPS ankle-monitoring bracelet before fleeing to Key West and crossing the Florida Strait.

Return of other fugitives ahead?

U.S. officials have voiced optimism that Cuba's cooperation will continue, and will lead to the eventual return of dozens of fugitives living in Cuba who have been charged with or convicted of defrauding the U.S. Medicare health program, as well as an array of American businesses.

A yearlong investigation published early this year by South Florida's Sun Sentinel newspaper describes purported criminal networks facilitated by a U.S. law that allows Cubans to enter the United States without visas or background checks of their criminal histories.

The report alleges that the so-called Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 has served as cover for dozens of Cubans who are suspected of defrauding U.S. insurance companies, credit card companies and government agencies of more than $2 billion in the past two decades.

American lawyer Rene Suarez, quoted in the lengthy Sun Sentinel report, described "a whole new sub-class of part-time residents that flow back and forth" between the two countries. "They tell me stories and live very comfortably in Cuba with the illegitimate money that they're able to obtain here in the United States."