The United States does not know how many fugitives are in Cuba.
Nobody tracks it. Nobody even routinely asks for the return of those wanted on serious federal charges, much less more common state offenses, the Sun Sentinel has found.
Law enforcement officials on state and federal levels say paperwork is rarely filed in Washington to request diplomatic assistance out of a sense that doing so would be futile. The United States has no working extradition treaty with Cuba.
"I could request Mars send someone back and we'd probably have better luck" said Ryan Stumphauzer, a former U.S. assistant state attorney in Miami who prosecuted Medicare cheats, most of them Cuban-born. "We know Cuba is not sending anybody back."
Since President Obama's surprise shift in December toward normalizing relations with the Communist-led nation, some members of Congress have demanded that Cuba hand over fugitives. The irony: law enforcement isn't regularly seeking their return.
Last week, three U.S. senators, including Florida's Marco Rubio, asked the FBI to produce the names of fugitives in Cuba and copies of their indictments. No complete list is likely to be forthcoming.
There is no formal mechanism in use to request extradition, no centrally collected records nationwide of how many likely are on the run in Cuba, and no coordination among counties or states on the issue, the Sun Sentinel has found.
Even in Miami-Dade County, where most Cuban-Americans live, state prosecutors do not log or tally fugitives thought to be in Cuba.
"It's not like we send up to Justice our Christmas list of potential felons," said Ed Griffith, spokesman for the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office.
In recent weeks the U.S. Marshals Office in South Florida has been scrambling to compile a list of people possibly hiding in Cuba, in case the Castro government suddenly agrees to expel such fugitives.
"We want to be prepared," said Marshals Office spokesman Barry Golden.
The Sun Sentinel, in a recent far-reaching investigation into Cuban crime rings in America, disclosed that Cuban nationals are taking advantage of generous U.S. immigration laws to come to the U.S. and steal billions from government programs and businesses.
Millions of dollars have traveled back to Cuba, and many individuals flee there when police close in on scams the Cubans specialize in. These typically involve health care, auto insurance, or credit card fraud; cargo theft; or marijuana trafficking, the Sun Sentinel found.
The Sun Sentinel located one fugitive wanted in a million dollar Texas credit card fraud case living in Santa Clara, Cuba. He'd written to the judge in his case in 2013, saying he "went to the U.S. to steal" and included his return address in Cuba.
Prosecutors had no evidence he was actually in Cuba and had not sought his return. "We can't extradite from Cuba. We wouldn't reach out to the State Department in a case like that," said Scott Carpenter of the District Attorney's Office in Fort Bend County, Texas.
In the occasional diplomatic talks, high-level U.S. officials have brought up the issue of fugitives in Cuba — usually the cases of prominent violent offenders, such as New Jersey cop killer Joanne Chesimard, a member the militant Black Liberation Army who fled to Cuba 30 years ago and was given political asylum.
How these appeals happen are a mystery to most street level investigators and prosecutors who simply don't bother filing voluminous records to Washington because the process is cumbersome, costly and likely fruitless.
"As far as them putting together a package for extradition, I guarantee that isn't happening," said Humberto Dominguez, a Miami criminal defense lawyer. "It would be worse if they did: it would be such a waste of taxpayer dollars."
Why send the paperwork to Cuba, he asked. "So they can utilize it as a bathroom implement?"
No answers or records
John Caulfield, chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana until 2014, said that for many years, American officials figured "there was no point in talking to the Cubans" because they didn't expect any cooperation.
But he said he'd tell individuals in law enforcement that if you don't ask, you don't know what will happen. "We were surprised in some cases" when the U.S. asked for someone's return and got it.
In the past decade, Cuban officials have returned a handful of criminals: Kidnappers. Child abusers. An insurance fraudster and others.
Neither the Department of State nor the Department of Justice will answer questions about how many fugitives the U.S. has sought to have returned, who, or even whether, state and federal prosecutors request extradition.
In recent months, the agencies have provided the Sun Sentinel with the same prepared statement three times: "The United States continues to seek the return from Cuba of fugitives from U.S. justice, and repeatedly raises their cases with the Government of Cuba."
Said Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr: "We generally do not disclose if requests are made or provide information on whether specific cases have been brought before different foreign authorities."
In March, the Sun Sentinel filed a Freedom of Information request with the Justice Department seeking copies of requests from prosecutors for the return of Cuban nationals wanted for felonies since 2007. The newspaper also sought records showing what efforts were made to inform Cuban authorities or US diplomats in Cuba of a fugitive's possible presence in Cuba.
The agency replied that it "failed to locate any responsive records."
The Sun Sentinel has received no records under a similar request made nine months ago to the State Department.
American University Professor William LeoGrande, a specialist in Latin American politics, said Cuba has had difficulty getting solid information from the Justice Department on fugitives the U.S. wants. "I've had a Cuban official tell me they couldn't even get confirmation that this was the right person."
Teddy Roosevelt's treaty
It's widely assumed that the U.S. has no extradition treaty with Cuba. In fact, one was signed in 1904 under President Theodore Roosevelt. Its use was suspended in the 1960s after Fidel Castro came to power.
"You often hear that the extradition treaty between the U.S. and Cuba has been abandoned. That's not so," said Robert Muse, a Washington attorney and expert on Cuban-related law. "It's listed by the State Department as a treaty in force. This agreement exists, it's just in abeyance."
Requesting extradition from any country is a long, formal, onerous effort, guided by the terms of each treaty.