Mon | Oct 21, 2019

Ruel Reid’s ‘helper’ speaks …Says she was directed to open bank account for education ministry’s use but declares innocence; scandal now affecting her health and family

Published:Sunday | July 7, 2019 | 12:37 AMPaul Clarke - Gleaner Writer
Ruel Reid
Hugh Wildman
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The woman who has been identified as a household helper for Ruel Reid, the discarded education minister at the epicentre of a wide-ranging criminal investigation, has claimed she was naively enmeshed in bank transactions involving millions of dollars to which family members of Reid had access.

The transactions are believed to be central to a probe being led by the Financial Investigations Division (FID), which has cast a net over the Ministry of Education and several of its agencies, including the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) and the National Education Trust.

Doreen Miller, whose identity was revealed in a meeting of Parliament’s Public Administration and Appropriations Committee last month, told The Sunday Gleaner in an exclusive interview that she was “coldly used” by Reid’s family, and that she has been on the brink of a “heart attack” because of corruption claims about which she allegedly knows nothing.

Reports are that approximately $4 million was transferred by the CMU to an account to which Miller is signatory as part payment of a $20-million consultancy contract for Gail Dunwell Campbell.

Dunwell Campbell, a Jamaican living in the state of Georgia in the United States, was reportedly given a two-year contract by the CMU “to explore and identify international funding and partnerships” for the east Kingston-based university. She was simultaneously contracted as an “international donor consultant” with the National Education Trust and was being paid $3.5 million a year.

“I want my name cleared because I have never worked in any official capacity as a helper for Mr Reid or his family. I only have done part-time work with them when I am off on leave from my usual job at Jamaica College,” said Miller, who said she had worked at the school for more than four decades before being recruited by Reid in 2016.

Miller, 65, alleges that Reid asked her to open a bank account through which the Ministry of Education could route funds to pay a helper.

“At the time, I was on contract, but agreed to open the account. I was under the impression that since I would have still been working at JC, the account would be active to pay someone else who would be working as the helper since he concluded he wanted a helper,” Miller told this newspaper on Friday.

“I did it and said when my contract is up, I would take up the post with him. My contract was to be up in two years, in 2018.”

Reid, 52, was principal of the Old Hope Road-based boys-only high school from 2006 to 2016 when he was seconded to the Andrew Holness administration to take up the post of minister of education, youth and information, as well as a Government senator. Reid retained his substantive school post while Wayne Robinson acted as headmaster, and renewed the contract for his principalship up to 2021.

The account was eventually opened at a branch of CIBC FirstCaribbean International Bank in St Andrew, Miller said, adding that she was accompanied by a family member of Reid and was eventually directed to hand over the debit card for the freshly opened account to the same relative. She added that the same family member, a woman, instructed her to use a particular PIN for the debit card.

FAMILY EMBARRASSED

Miller, who said she was unable to take up Reid’s offer as full-time helper, because of ill health, when her contract at Jamaica College expired in 2018, revealed that she was co-opted into periodically authorising transactions but had no knowledge of the details.

“One day last year, 2018, I was at home and I received a call from another of Mr Reid’s family members telling me to meet her at the bank. While there, I was asked to authorise the withdrawal of $1 million, which I did,” Miller told The Sunday Gleaner.

According to her, between 2016, when the account was opened, and up to the time she authorised the $1 million withdrawal, she never had access to the card, nor was she aware of details of deposits to, and withdrawals from, the account, or the source of income.

Miller also alleged that she was told to write a cheque in the name of another close family member of Reid to cover medical expenses for that person’s father, who was ill at the time.

“Last year again, I was asked to go to the bank to re-PIN the card, as I am not sure what happened with the first one, if it got lost. So I re-PIN’d it again in the presence of this family member, and again it was the same procedure where I was given a specific number to be used as the PIN. Then she took the card,” said Miller.

The former office attendant said she did not receive any personal financial benefit for opening the account. The only non-wage funds received from Reid, Miller told The Sunday Gleaner, was $30,000 towards the burial of her brother and $20,000 to defray healthcare expenses, both in 2018.

Miller said she was shocked by the predawn operation at her home on March 7 this year, when a police team swooped down, banged on doors, and demanded that she hand over the debit card she alleged to have then been in the possession of Reid’s family.

“I was at home when I heard heavy knocking on my window and shouts of ‘Police!’ I had no idea why they would come to my house. When I let them in, they said to me, ‘Where is the card?’ and that I should give them the money. I was stunned, because I never knew what they were talking about. I showed them the only money I had – $9,000 for the church bus – but that did not stop them searching,” she said.

“After they satisfied themselves, I was told I needed to go with them to the police station. They asked me if I knew anyone who worked at the Caribbean Maritime University, and I replied, ‘I don’t know anyone’.”

Miller said she was then told the name of a particular woman and asked if she knew her.

“I don’t know this person; I have never met this lady,” she said in relation to one of a barrage of questions she faced during the 4:30 a.m. operation.

Miller said the melodrama has taken a huge toll on her personal life, with her family bearing the battle scars of psychological strain and public embarrassment from the scandal.

“Last week, I went to church and I fainted. And right now, I can’t even talk about it and not feel as though I am going to have a heart attack, because each day I do, it makes my head just beat. I just keep losing weight over this thing.

“All of my clothes swinging on me. It is affecting my brain, as I have been having constant headaches. I had to leave me yard for two weeks; I couldn’t stay there,” she said.

PREMATURE TO COMMENT

When The Sunday Gleaner contacted Reid yesterday for comment on Miller’s allegations, he referred the newspaper to his attorneys, Carolyn Chuck and Hugh Wildman.

Wildman declined to address the specific claims made by Miller, saying only that it would be irresponsible of him to comment now.

“For an investigation to be going on and I to comment on evidence, it is premature to do that. It is prejudicial to any investigation being done. That would not be acting in the best interest of my client,” he said.

Last Friday, CMU President Fritz Pinnock announced that he was taking a leave of absence for six weeks to facilitate the FID investigation and in order not to distract from the operations of the campus. Pinnock has accused investigators of harassment in demanding documents from the CMU and initiated court action alleging procedural breaches.

Investigators are also probing a $5.4 million CMU contract for former St Ann North West Member of Parliament Othneil Lawrence as an adviser.

Lawrence had initially resisted attempts to parachute in Ruel Reid as a prospective candidate in the constituency for the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).

But two months after Lawrence affixed his signature to the CMU contract, the JLP announced that Reid had been selected to replace him as the party’s St Ann North West constituency caretaker.

paul.clarke@gleanerjm.com