Sat | Sep 19, 2020

FID targets assets after five convicted in $400m Manchester municipal fraud trial

Published:Saturday | May 16, 2020 | 12:00 AMLivern Barrett/Senior Staff Reporter
Sanja Elliot and Tasha-Gaye Goulbourne Elliott (centre) being escorted by the police after they were found guilty in the Manchester Municipal Corporation Fraud Trial at the Manchester Parish Court yesterday.
David Harris (left), former secretary manager, and Kendale Roberts (right), former temporary works overseer, being escorted by the police after a guilty verdict was handed down yesterday by senior parish judge Ann-Marie Grainger.
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THE WAY is now clear for the Government to begin the legal process of seeking to take possession of properties and other assets valued at more than $220 million that have been traced to former Manchester Parish Council official Sanja Elliott.

The Manchester Parish Council has since been renamed the Manchester Municipal Corporation (MMC).

Already, the properties and assets, which include an apartment complex consisting of 11 units, a four-storey family house, four residential lots, six high-end motor vehicles, as well as a Honda Ridgeline, and several bank accounts, have been frozen by the Supreme Court.

“He [Elliott] is going to lose everything,” one law enforcement source predicted yesterday.

Elliott, the former deputy superintendent in charge of roads and works, was one of three former MMC officials who were found guilty in the Manchester Parish Court yesterday for their roles in a scheme used to defraud the local government authority of approximately $400 million.

The other ex-officials are David Harris, former secretary-manager and finance director and Kendale Roberts, former temporary works overseer.

Wife, friend convicted

Elliott’s wife, Tasha-Gaye, and his personal friend, Dwayne Sibbles, were also convicted for their involvement in the scheme, which involved the creation of dozens of fictitious payment vouchers in the names of friends and associates of the former local government official.

His mother, Myrtle Elliott, and bank teller Radcliffe McLean were freed of all charges by senior parish judge Ann-Marie Grainger, who presided over the case.

Elliott’s father, Edwardo, who was also arrested and charged in connection with the fraudulent scheme, was freed earlier this year.

After the verdicts were announced, an attorney for the Financial Investigations Division (FID) of the Finance Ministry immediately alerted Grainger that on July 27 when she is scheduled to hand down sentence, the agency will request that all five convicts be committed to the Supreme Court.

“We are putting it on record that we intend, on the date of sentencing, to make applications that the convicted parties be committed to the circuit court for the hearing of a forfeiture order or pecuniary penalty order,” the attorney said.

Yesterday’s verdicts marked the end of what is believed to be the largest fraud case in Jamaica’s history involving a municipal authority.

The closely-watched case made national headlines in June 2016 after Sanja Elliott and Sibbles were arrested in a series of early morning raids conducted by the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA). The raids marked the culmination of a major corruption probe which also included the FID.

Dozens of cheques

Grainger underlined evidence led by prosecutors Patrice Hickson and Channa Ormsby which detailed how dozens of cheques, drawn on the account of the MMC, were made payable to friends of Sanja Elliott and persons previously employed to the municipality for work that were never done.

As an example, she pointed to WhatsApp messages between Sanja Elliott and Roberts. “WhatsApp messages show that Mr Sanja Elliott sent the name ‘Tyrone’ to WhatsApp handle ‘Kendale’ on October 21, 2015 also on November 4, 2015.”

“Payment vouchers and cheques were generated in the name of Tyrone Merchant shortly after. Mr Roberts signed the contractor invoices verifying that works were done when Mr Tyrone Merchant told the court that he would have not done any works to be the beneficiary of these cheques,” the judge noted.

Two other witnesses, Melissa McFarlane and Natasha Heron, testified, too, that they cashed dozens of cheques, drawn in their names on the account of the MMC, and turned over the monies to Sanja Elliott or Sibbles.

In the case of Heron, she gave evidence that she cashed about 40 cheques. “Sometimes, she said, she would cash cheques everyday,” the judge recounted of Heron’s testimony during the trial.

The revelation led Granger to describe both women as accomplices. “She made no enquiries of Mr Elliott as to why she was encashing cheques when she did no work for the Manchester Parish Council … . she never caused any work to be done, she was never employed by the council and she submitted no document in the form of an invoice to the Manchester Parish Council in relation to any work.”

In finding Tasha-Gaye Elliott guilty, Grainger pointed to evidence of the “lifestyle” she and her husband enjoyed. “The evidence is that over an eight-day span in May 2016, Mr Elliott had expended more than $1.5 million on luxury items,” she said.

“It’s the court’s findings that this was right before her eyes … she was a part of it, enjoying it. She must have become suspicious that there was some criminal conduct of some kind involved.

“At the minimum, the court believes that if she didn’t know she deliberately shut her eyes to the obvious or refrained from enquiring because she suspected the truth but didn’t want her suspicion satisfied.”

All five convicts were offered bail until the date of sentencing.

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com