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American arrested in Turks and Caicos over ammo found in bag gets suspended sentence of 52 weeks

American avoids Turks and Caicos jail
American avoids jail time in Turks and Caicos over ammunition in luggage 03:27

An American tourist who was arrested in the Turks and Caicos Islands for possessing ammunition was given a suspended sentence of 52 weeks on Friday and left the British territory following a monthslong ordeal, a spokesperson posted to social media. The spokesperson for Bryan Hagerich of Pennsylvania initially said the sentence was 52 months long and then corrected the length of the sentence.

Hagerich was one of several Americans facing a potential mandatory minimum sentence of 12 years in prison on ammunition charges in Turks and Caicos. According to spokesperson Jonathan Franks, the judge found that the case had exceptional circumstances and that the lengthy sentence would be arbitrary. The father of two, who also had to pay a $6,700 fine, landed in Pittsburgh late Friday night, where he was met by his family, along with Democratic Sen. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania and Republican Rep. Guy Reschenthaler.

Before leaving the islands, Hagerich told reporters he was elated with the outcome of his case.

"This is what we've been waiting for for the last 101 days, and to experience this here and eight short hours to be home and hug my kids, it's the best day," Hagerich said.

He said he was going to tell his children that he loved them.

"We have a lot of time to make up for," his wife Ashley Hagerich said.

Hagerich had pleaded guilty to possessing 20 rifle rounds, according to the Turks and Caicos government. He was arrested in February when the ammunition was found in his checked bag, and he said he spent eight nights in jail before he was released on bail.

"Some of the darkest, hardest times of my life, quite frankly," Hagerich told CBS News last month.

Premier C. Washington Misick said in a statement Friday that justice had been "served as the law intended."

"Today's decision reflects our commitment to judicial independence along with upholding the law," Misick said in a statement. "Residents and visitors can be confident that the Turks and Caicos Islands are dedicated to safety and compassion as we protect the safety and rights of all."

Hagerich told news outlets he didn't know he brought the hunting ammunition on a family vacation to Turks and Caicos but he recognized it when authorities found it in his bag.

Who are the Americans arrested in Turks and Caicos?

Hagerich is the first of several Americans arrested on ammunition charges in recent months to be sentenced. Three other Americans' cases are pending in the archipelago southeast of the Bahamas. A fifth American who was also recently charged was allowed to return home for medical reasons.

Tyler Wenrich, a father from Virginia accused of having two 9 mm bullets in his backpack when he was trying to board a cruise ship, pleaded guilty this week and is awaiting sentencing.

Ryan Watson, a father from Oklahoma, is expected to plead guilty next week after four rounds of hunting ammunition were found in his carry-on luggage last month.

Sharitta Grier, a grandmother from Florida who allegedly had two bullets in her carry-on bag when she was going home from a surprise Mother's Day vacation, has a court date scheduled for July.

The cases caught the attention of members of Congress, who recently visited Turks and Caicos and met with officials. Sen. John Fetterman, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, issued a statement Friday expressing gratitude for the judge's decision.

"When we met with TCI officials a few days ago, they made clear that they wanted this situation resolved," Fetterman said in a statement. "They recognized that Bryan and the other detained Americans are not gunrunners – they are just people who made a mistake."

Hagerich's congressman, Republican Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, said the ordeal was avoidable.

"While I am overjoyed to see Bryan Hagerich will be returning to Pennsylvania and reuniting with his wife and two children, this terrifying situation should have never happened to him," Reschenthaler said on social media.

Turks and Caicos travel advisory    

Before Friday's sentence was handed down, Reschenthaler called for the Biden administration to stop Americans from traveling to Turks and Caicos. He told CBS News he wants the U.S. State Department to issue a no-travel order for the islands.

"Without question, Americans should not travel to Turks and Caicos until two things happen," Reschenthaler told CBS News senior transportation correspondent Kris Van Cleave on Thursday. "Number one, all our detainees need to be released to the United States immediately, and Turks and Caicos needs to repeal this draconian law that's totally out of step with other nations."

The State Department has a travel advisory in place for Turks and Caicos urging Americans to exercise increased caution there, which is similar to what the department has in place for some European countries and other places.

In a similar case last year, an Indiana man served more than five months in prison.

"No clean running water, you're kind of exposed to the environment 24/7, mosquitoes and tropical illnesses are a real concern," Michael Grim told CBS News.

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