Gov't loses millions in bungled ammo deal
Tyrone Reid, Staff Reporter
Still embarrassed by a major security blunder that resulted in millions of taxpayers' dollars being paid over to an illegal arms dealer in March 2008, the Government has quietly collected less than a third of the money it pumped into the purchase of some 270,000 rounds of ammunition for the police.
Officials from the United States (US) Department of Justice revealed that the Jamaican Government recovered a portion of the money Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) operatives paid over to Lance Brooks, an unlicensed arms dealer who operated out of Lauderhill, Florida.
No announcement was made by the Jamaican establishment regarding the recovered funds.
However, Annette Castillo, from the US Department of Justice, in response to Gleaner queries sent last week via email to Alicia Valle, special counsel to the US attorney, noted that "Brooks agreed to forfeit the proceeds of his illegal transaction with the Jamaica Government and the recovered funds were returned to the Jamaica Government."
"The Jamaica Government was very cooperative and supportive of the prosecution of Brooks. They sent representatives to the US for sentencing and to receive the forfeited funds," Castillo also said, in an email sent on behalf of the special counsel.
She also pointed out that no Jamaican official was called to testify in court because "Brooks pleaded guilty and admitted everything regarding his dealings".
Subsequent checks with the Ministry of National Security (MNS) on Monday confirmed that the Government recovered US$20,122 of the US$81,100 (approximately J$6 million at the time) that the JCF paid to Brooks for the bullets. At today's rate of exchange, taxpayers have lost approximately $5.4 million of the money spent as the police did not receive any bullets from the bungled deal.
Major Richard Reese, permanent secretary in the national security ministry, told The Gleaner he could not say much more about the botched ammunition affair, which happened under his predecessor's watch, because it was still being probed.
"This matter is still the subject of an OCG (Office of the Contractor General) investigation and the MNS has received a payment arising from forfeited funds," he said.
The recovered funds were collected by a member of the missions staff in Florida, said Reese, who admitted that the "rest has been lost".
Brooks, owner and operator of Taylor and Associates - an arms-brokering business - was sen-tenced on May 22, 2009 to 12 months in prison and 36 months' supervised release. On that same day, Brooks was also slapped with another sentence - 24 months in prison and 36 months' supervised release - for exporting defence services from the United States to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) without a licence.
Brooks started to negotiate the deal with local authorities in October 2007; he was indicted on the UAE charges in November that same year. Brooks pleaded guilty to the charges in December 2007 but continued to negotiate with the Jamaican authorities, who at the time were unaware that the unlicensed dealer was out on bond awaiting sentencing.
Subsequently, Brooks was charged with knowingly and wilfully brokering the sale of 150,000 rounds of .38 Jacketed Soft Point ammunition, 20,000 rounds of .380 Jacketed Soft Point ammunition, and 100,000 rounds of .223 fifty-five-grain Jacketed Soft Point ammunition to Jamaica, without first having registered with and obtaining a licence from the United States Department of State, Directorate of Defence Trade Controls.