Sat | Oct 19, 2019

50m reasons why - Reid, Pinnock, three others charged in ministry, CMU fraud

Published:Thursday | October 10, 2019 | 12:23 AMLivern Barrett/Senior Staff Reporter
Ruel and Sharen Reid
Sharelle Reid
Attorney Carolyn Chuck and members of the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency escort Ruel Reid and his family to a bus during a raid on his St Andrew home yesterday morning.
The Reid home in St Andrew.
Professor Fritz Pinnock, president of the Caribbean Maritime University, is escorted into a police vehicle after he was arrested at his Hellshire, St Catherine, home yesterday morning.
Kim Brown-Lawrence
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Investigators have charged that nearly $50 million of public funds was diverted to the personal use of discarded Education Minister Ruel Reid and Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) President, Professor Fritz Pinnock, through a number of schemes, including one that mirrors the Career Advancement Programme-Youth Employment Solutions (CAP-YES).

The allegations, senior law enforcement sources say, are at the centre of the wide-ranging multimillion-dollar corruption probe by law enforcement agencies, which culminated yesterday with criminal charges being filed against Reid, Pinnock, and Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Councillor Kim Brown-Lawrence.

The parallel CAP-YES programme, sources alleged, was operated out of the CMU in a manner similar to the original project operated by the Education Ministry to assist at-risk young people. But, according to one investigator, the CAP-YES programme operated out of the CMU was instead used to pay several ‘vendors’, including Brown-Lawrence, for services they did not provide.

Bogus contracts

Further, investigators have alleged that Reid was the architect of a scheme in which bogus catering contracts were created in the names of his former helper, Doreen Miller, and driver, Devon McQueen.

The CMU has acknowledged that thousands of dollars were paid out in both names, but Miller and McQueen have insisted publicly that they were not associated with the east Kingston university.

“This case is built on extensive analysis of documents and the flow of money from CMU’s bank accounts to associates of Mr Reid and, eventually, to him,” a senior police investigator told The Gleaner.

Reid, his wife, Sharen, and his daughter, Sharelle, were arrested along with Pinnock and Brown-Lawrence during a series of coordinated pre-dawn operations at their homes in St Andrew, St Catherine, and St Ann, respectively. All five were expected to remain respectively in police custody overnight.

In a statement last night the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) confirmed that all were charged for various illegal acts, including breaches of the Corruption Prevention Act, Conspiracy to Defraud, Misconduct in a Public Office at Common Law, and breaches of the Proceeds of Crime Act.

Another target of the probe, former JLP member of parliament for St Ann North West Othneil Lawrence also got an early morning visit from detectives attached to MOCA. His St Ann home was searched, but he was not taken into custody, officials confirmed.

Christopher Townsend, the attorney for Brown-Lawrence, confirmed late yesterday that the local official had been charged with conspiracy to defraud and being in possession of criminal property and was scheduled to appear in the Kingston and St Andrew Parish Court today.

Townsend acknowledged that the criminal property in question referred to “money” that belongs to the CMU but asserted his client’s innocence and signalled that she intends to challenge those assertions.

“I can’t say conclusively that it is CMU’s money. That’s a matter the Crown will attempt to prove at the appropriate time. Those monies belong to who … those are the issues the court must determine,” he said.

“We did a question-and-answer this afternoon (yesterday), which was completed a short while ago, and she remains in custody,” Townsend told Dionne Jackson Miller, host of RJR’s ‘Beyond the Headlines’.

Law enforcement officials confirmed that Reid has been charged with various offences under the Proceeds of Crime Act and the Corruption Prevention Act.

Reid’s attorney, Carolyn Chuck, could not be contacted for a comment. Calls to her cell phone went unanswered.

The Financial Investigation Division indicated, in a statement, that the probe would target other individuals.

Reid was asked by Prime Minister Andrew Holness to resign as education minister in March amid allegations of irregularities and corruption at a number of entities that fall under the education ministry, including the CMU.

Nearly seven months later, investigators showed up at the homes of Reid and Pinnock, who twice went on leave to facilitate the corruption probe.

The former education minister and government senator, along with his wife and daughter, covered their heads with a blanket as they were led out of their King’s House Avenue townhouse into a police service vehicle and whisked away.

Pinnock was led from his Hellshire home after he was initially hesitant to allow detectives access to his residence.

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com