Thu | Dec 13, 2018

Extortion pushback - Cops hunt men attempting to shake down business community

Published:Monday | March 6, 2017 | 12:00 AMLivern Barrett
Police on foot patrol on Burke Road, Spanish Town, St Catherine yesterday.

Police investigators are trying to track down three persons who they believe are the masterminds behind a threatening letter that was distributed to business operators in three parishes on the weekend, demanding extortion payments of up to $100,000 each month.

At the same time, Assistant Commissioner Clifford Chambers, the man leading the investigation, said this time, the criminals underestimated the level of cooperation that exists between the police and the business community.

"Law enforcement is working in a better partnership with business entities, so the criminal underworld will realise that they are not cowering anymore," said Chambers, who heads the Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime (C-TOC) division.

"They understand that if they give in to this demand, they are only setting up themselves for worse to come," he said.

Chambers said the investigation has so far revealed that the criminal network behind the brazen extortion attempt is based in Mandeville, Manchester, with ambitions to control the lucrative business communities across St Catherine, Clarendon, and Manchester.

"We know the persons we are interested in and we are on to something. There are three persons of interest who we are searching for right now," said Chambers.

He confirmed reports to The Gleaner that several men were seen driving around the Mandeville town centre on Friday distributing the letters to several businesses. Law-enforcement sources said some of the men were captured on closed-circuit television as they delivered the letters.

Two of them were reportedly apprehended in a BMW motor car with 15 letters. "What we know is that a majority of them [business operators] were not reached because in the vehicle there were 15 other letters," Chambers said.

"And when they were intercepted, they were in the process of delivering those," he added.

Yesterday, acting Police Commissioner Novelette Grant said the men were being interogated and would be charged with a number of criminal offences.

The Gleaner obtained a copy of the letter, which starts with the declaration: "... [A]s of now you will be required to pay a sum of money to this system every month end to operate business here." It also indicated that the payment plan for large businesses would be $25,000 per week or $100,000 per month and $20,000 per week or $80,000 per month for "medium" businesses.

It also warned that there would be a zero-tolerance approach towards late payment, and those business operators who defy the demands. "If you feel the need to get the police involved or private security to protect your business or fight this proposal, feel free to do so, because if they apprehend the subject that is sent to you, you (the owner, manager, employee) will be killed and your family will be at high risk of being murdered in the most gruesome way," it warned.

Chambers acknowledged that the full scope of the extortion scheme is still unclear and that not all business operators who received letters have come forward, but said he was happy with the cooperation his investigators have been getting.

"We want to encourage persons who have been affected to reach out to us and give us any footage they may have that can facilitate the identification of the persons," he said.