The 7-foot, 2-inch Nigerian whom police Tased and arrested at the Manchester City Library in late September is a victim in a human trafficking scheme that brought young African men to the United States with the promise of hoop dreams that — at least for Clifford Etadafimue — never materialized, the New Hampshire Union Leader has learned.
According to a federal indictment filed in Charlotte, N.C., 75 teenagers and young men from foreign countries enrolled in the Evelyn Mack Academy and migrated to one of the epicenters of basketball obsession in the United States, the Interstate-85 arc that runs through central North Carolina.
Once there, school founder Evelyn Mack shipped them off to other schools that provided her with cash because they lacked her U.S. Department of Homeland Security approvals to issue paperwork that led to F-1 visas for the student-athletes, the indictment stated.
In the case of Etadafimue, now 21, the pipeline from Nigeria to the hardwood courts of the Tar Heel State detoured to southern New Hampshire. Here he has few friends or prospects. He has worked at a low-wage job, lived in a homeless shelter and struggled with possible mental illness. He’s been kicked out of the library and a hospital emergency room, despite complaints that he is cold and has done nothing wrong.
“They stalk me, follow me around and shoot me. I did not attack anybody,” Etadafimue said during an interview at the Nashua Rescue Mission two weeks ago, where he ended up after five Manchester arrests, all alleging criminal trespass in either the library or Elliot Hospital emergency room.
Late last week, Etadafimue texted a reporter to say he had just been discharged from a hospital after getting hit by a car in Nashua two weeks ago.
Nashua police have confirmed they had Etadafimue transported to a hospital but said there was no evidence of him getting struck by a car.
A one-time Charlotte police officer, Mack pleaded guilty in July in U.S. District Court in Charlotte to a charge of conspiracy to harbor aliens. She has yet to be sentenced, and the investigation into the conspiracy is continuing, said Kenny Smith, the assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case.
Smith said Etadafimue was one of the 75.
And while Etadafimue said he played basketball for a few prep schools and junior colleges — Guildford (N.C.) Community Technical College, Hines Prep (Charlotte), Adidas Uprising (Memphis) — a basketball career never materialized.
When arrested in September and October of this year, Etadafimue described himself in court papers as homeless and working at McDonald’s.
Manchester police arrested him four times at the Elliot Hospital after he refused to leave the emergency room, according to court documents; two of those times he complained to police he was cold.
He was also arrested once for refusing to leave the Manchester City Library on Sept. 24, after the library had earlier banned him for acting aggressively toward other library patrons and throwing a phone charger at several library users.
Police used their Taser electric stun gun on him at the library and a month later at the Elliot. His size worked against him when it came to the arrest, according to police reports.
“Clifford stands at 7’02 and weighs approximately 380 lbs, so I immediately took several steps backwards after he failed to comply with the arrest and withdrew my department issued Taser,” Lt. Brian O’Keefe wrote in his report about his Oct. 28 arrest at the Elliot Hospital.
O’Keefe told Etadafimue that being cold isn’t a valid reason to stay at the hospital, that he had to leave, and he would be Tased if he did not comply with the arrest, the report reads.
Etadafimue backed away but said he would not be arrested, reads the report, which is part of the court file. That prompted O’Keefe to shoot him twice with the Taser and then handcuff him.
“I never committed any crime. They want me to go to jail,” he said.
He said he has lived several places since moving to the United States — North Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, Missouri, Texas.
His biggest focus during a Nov. 7 interview was his car. He said his 2007 Saturn VUE had been towed for parking violations in Manchester, and he needed to get his laptop, birth certificate, GED diploma, clothes and cash from inside the car.
Without a car he cannot get to a job, he said. And he needs the papers to land a job. A reporter checked with police, and forwarded a message that he can get access to his property if he visits the tow yard.
In a later telephone conversation, Etadafimue was hesitant to speak about Evelyn Mack. He said she provided the I-20 immigration document that allowed him to obtain a visa.
She treated him fairly, he said.
“I don’t want to press charges against her,” he said.
According to his social media pages, Etadafimue started school at Evelyn Mack Academy in October 2015 and graduated in 2017.
However, an internet search shows him playing for the Charlotte-based Hines Prep in a National Junior College Athletic Association game in November 2016.
If that’s the case, it fits the pattern spelled out in the indictment against Mack. Authorities say she filled out paperwork saying the immigrant students attended her school while they in fact were enrolled at other schools.
“For financial and other benefits ... Mack used her status as a (Primary Designated School Official) to allow and assist co-conspirators, many of whom were basketball coaches and recruiters for various organizations in the United States and other countries, to knowingly and intentionally circumvent compliance with the student visa program,” the indictment reads.
A Facebook message sent to Hines Prep referred a reporter to Aris Hines, but he was not reachable. According to online articles from North Carolina, Aris Hines faced state fraud-related charges in 2016 after obtaining money from people in exchange for promises to enroll them in prep schools.
Authorities even investigated Hines for bringing students to the polls in Lumberton, N.C., to vote in 2013. When an election official questioned their residency, they hurriedly left the polls, according to a 2016 article in The Times-News of Burlington, N.C.
Several inquiries to the Robeson County District Attorney’s office, which brought the charges against Hines, were not returned.
After the late October arrests, Etadafimue moved to Nashua. He spent a couple of weeks at the Southern New Hampshire Rescue Mission on Chestnut Street.
The executive director, Pastor Richard Rutter, said Etadafimue was quick to help whenever asked to do tasks, especially heavy lifting.
When interviewed there, Etadafimue was wearing a hospital mask and said he had an infection. He shared hospital reports that showed he had elevated blood pressure and bronchitis.
Etadafimue said he was living in Boston, came to Manchester to visit a friend and ended up living here.
Mack said he has a green card that allows him to live and work in the country.
While at the Rescue Mission in Nashua, Etadafimue spent most of the day looking for a job, said Rutter, who last Wednesday said he hadn’t seen Etadafimue for about a week. “He seemed like he was trying to be self-motivated,” Rutter said.
But on Nov. 14, Etadafimue was hit by a car in Nashua, he texted a reporter. Police confirmed he was transported to the hospital, but notes say there was no evidence of a pedestrian-automobile accident, according to Nashua police.
Some of what Etadafimue said, however, stretched credulity.
He said police shot him with bullets, including in his knee. He also said library workers had mistaken him for a similar-looking unruly patron when they ordered him out of the library in September.
Meanwhile, Manchester Circuit Court Judge Kimberly Chabot has denied requests by Manchester police to jail Etadafimue before his trial. Rather, she ordered a competency evaluation and set a court hearing for Dec. 27 to consider his mental health status.
”Based upon counsel’s contact with Mr. Etadafimue, he is concerned that Mr. Etadafimue may not have a rational or factual understanding of the present proceedings or the present ability to consult with counsel with a reasonable degree of rational understanding,” wrote his public defender, Brian Civale.