A Wisconsin cruise ship passenger faces years in Cayman Islands prison after a gun was found in her luggage
Carol Ann McNeill-Skorupan's ship had anchored at George Town in the Cayman Islands last month, the first stop on a nine-night Caribbean cruise that departed from Florida.
Once in port on Feb. 3, the 68-year-old Madison, Wisconsin, woman got a notice that her third piece of luggage, which hadn't arrived with her flight from Wisconsin to Fort Lauderdale, had been found and flown down to the George Town airport.
But when McNeill-Skorupan went to pick it up, her vacation turned into an expensive lesson in how American gun rights don't always travel well, and that could land her in a foreign prison.
Inside that third bag, X-rays showed, was a .25 caliber handgun and six rounds of ammunition. Despite her claim of a Wisconsin concealed carry permit, in the Caymans, it was considered illegal possession of an unlicensed firearm.
Conviction carries a mandatory seven-year prison term upon a guilty plea, 10 years if convicted at trial — unless the court finds "exceptional circumstances."
She's among dozens of Americans caught up in the Cayman Islands' strict enforcement of gun laws, but one of only two facing trial and the risk of significant incarceration.
"They do what they want to there," said the other one, Florida business owner David Meadors "The biggest problem isn't the fines, but arbitrarily ruining peoples' lives."
Gun never left suitcase
According to reports in the Cayman Compass, the Cayman Islands' main news outlet, McNeill-Skorupan spent three nights in jail before her release on $10,000 bail and the surrender of her passport. She was living in a hotel with an evening curfew while awaiting trial next month.
McNeill-Skorupan didn't ask that Delta forward the bag, her lawyer told the court, and had directed that it should be left with a friend in Florida, Meadors said.
A judge later granted her permission to travel, and Meadors said she's back in Madison. He said he has been tracking her case because it could impact his own and has been in touch with people who have spoken with her.
Meadors, 54, who is in Florida awaiting a hearing in May, is in bigger trouble. He has already pleaded guilty to bringing his 9mm handgun to the Caymans, where he was building a multi-million dollar retirement home, but was allowed to return to Florida for medical treatment.
He thinks McNeill-Skorupan's best option is to just skip her trial, but that could impact her professional licenses.
"She'd lose her bail and could probably never go back to the Caymans," Meadors said. He has more than $600,000 in bail and collateral at stake, and he said, Cayman officials have mentioned extradition if he doesn't return.
It's unclear if McNeill-Skorupan was planning to bring the gun on her cruise since Celebrity Cruises bans passengers from taking firearms on board.
McNeill-Skorupan is a certified public accountant and active in the Dane County Republican Party. She did not return a voice mail or Facebook message, and her Cayman attorney did not return an email or phone message.
Americans nabbed as they try to leave
Guns and ammunition are strictly regulated in the Cayman Islands, a British overseas territory south of Cuba and northwest of Jamaica, as several other visitors have learned recently.
Officials with the country's government did not return calls and emails from the Journal Sentinel.
The Cayman Compass reported last month that a 58-year-old man was about to board a Feb. 20 flight to North Carolina when an X-ray revealed a single .22-caliber round in his carry-on bag.
He was detained and missed his flight. In court, his lawyer said the visitor also had a permit to carry a concealed weapon in the United States and thought the ammunition must have just gotten caught in the lining of his backpack during a different outing.
A magistrate noted that, unfortunately, the island had experienced several recent cases of Americans with guns or ammunition, citing liberal U.S. gun laws and increased travel from the country to the Cayman Islands.
The magistrate imposed what the Compass reported is a common disposition in such cases — an order to pay about $1,000 in costs, and no conviction.
A 21-year-old man who went to the Caymans for KAABOO, an outdoor music festival, was arrested Feb. 17 as he prepared to fly back to the U.S. after X-rays showed two unspecified rounds of ammunition in his backpack.
That man's lawyer told a magistrate his client had found the ammunition while hiking weeks earlier and had simply forgotten the rounds were in the backpack. He said the man's parents have had an apartment in the Caymans for years, and he considers the island his second home.
The young man also plans to join the U.S. Army, his lawyer said. Though the visitor pleaded guilty, the magistrate withheld conviction and ordered he pay the $1,000 costs.
Last year, a 62-year-old Minnesota man was fined $13,000 for a gun and ammunition he had flown to Cayman in a suitcase but wasn't discovered until he was trying to leave. He also had to forfeit the gun and ammo for destruction.
"There's a huge lack of understanding among the U.S. public about the Cayman Islands. The bottom line is they detest us and what we stand for," Meadors said.
Meadors said he thinks authorities want to make an example of him to appease anti-American sentiments among some of the nation's approximately 61,000 residents, the majority of whom are non-white.
"They don't understand that Carol Ann taking a gun with her is a way of life in the U.S," he said. "All they see is a criminal."
Floridian facing years in prison
Meadors' case seems to be the biggest among the Americans-with-guns prosecutions.
Meadors said he's building an expensive retirement home on Cayman Brac. When Cayman customs officials came to inspect a shipping container he had sent to the home site in 2017, filled with materials, tools and furnishings, they also found more than 200 rounds of 9mm ammunition.
Meadors said employees at his Dania Beach window company packed the ammo by mistake. When asked if he had a gun, Meadors admitted he did, locked in an apartment storage area. He intended to take it when his family goes boating in the Caribbean.
He was charged with import and possession of the gun and the ammunition, plus possession of a BB gun he had to control pests at the construction site. He said he was told that if he pleaded guilty to the counts involving the gun, the others would be dropped and "exceptional circumstances" would apply at sentencing.
Now, he says, they've reneged. He's supposed to return for a hearing on his argument for a medical delay for his case. Meadors questions how much of the Cayman enforcement against Americans is really about safety, and how much is about making money.
He noted that he flew his gun there on Cayman Airways without a problem and that most other cases involve catching tourists on their way out of the country, "because they want to protect themselves," he said sarcastically.
Bringing his gun without first obtaining a Cayman license — which, as a property owner there and a gun permit holder in Florida, he could have done for $130 — was "stupid, ignorant and careless, but it wasn't criminal."
Meadors said he didn't know the Cayman gun law.
Meadors said he has engaged a U.S. lawyer and been in contact with Florida members of Congress. A spokesman for Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, said that office has also heard from McNeill-Skorupan, but that there's little it can do regarding her case.
The State Department's international travel advisory for the Cayman Islands says possessing a gun or ammunition, even a single round, is a common reason for arrests. The advisory makes clear that possessing even ammunition will result in arrest, and that being employed in law enforcement or the military, or having a valid U.S. permit for a gun does not make it legal in the Caymans.
Contact Bruce Vielmetti at (414) 224-2187 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @ProofHearsay.
This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: A Wisconsin cruise ship passenger faces years in Cayman Islands prison after a gun was found in her luggage