- Extortionists extracting a heavy toll
Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
After retreating into the shadows in the aftermath of the 2010 west Kingston military incursion to apprehend Christopher 'Dudus' Coke, there are more signs of a resurgence of the hoodlums over the past six months, Gleaner checks have found.
But with the construction sector in decline, the new extortionists have been forced to change their strategies.
The criminals are now targeting truckers and other facets of the industry on the roads instead of lying in wait at construction sites, The Gleaner has learnt.
Two months ago, in a covert operation, The Gleaner discovered that the extortionists had resurrected their trade in sections of downtown Kingston, netting thousands of dollars daily from motorists for parking in a number of areas.
At the time, a senior lawman told The Gleaner the police planned to change their strategy in cramping the extortion racket affecting motorists.
Last week, however, (potential) victims said the extortionists were no less determined, dangerous or deadly these days and other senior police personnel were evasive when questioned about the proliferation of such hoodlums in the Corporate Area and nearby parishes,
In spite of the high number of police personnel in these areas, small bus operators and route taxis were also targets for extortionists in Half-Way Tree, downtown Kingston and Spanish Town square.
Construction-sector workers charge that the police have had their heads buried in the proverbial sand since Coke's extradition, but admitted that they have refused to report the matter for fear of being injured or even killed.
"Extortionists work unimpeded these days because you and I know that after the 'Dudus' incident, they literally believed that everything had died down," said a senior contractor. "This means that they are just not out there and people are not willing to take the risk of reporting."
Asked why they are prepared to put up with the scourge, The Gleaner was told that truckers are not convinced that they would be protected by the police.
"If you report to the police that you are coming through Grants Pen in St Thomas and the police aren't there every day, you can't go back out there.
"And you can't go to a place like St Thomas unless you pass Nine Mile Bull Bay which like Grants Pen (in the parish) is a criminal nest," said a contractor. "The truckers usually venture into St Thomas for aggregate, so it's a tax on the asphalt industry as well as on general construction."
The focus last week on the brazen extortionists operating on the construction site of the Palisadoes strip, brought into full glare the fact that the practice was anything but dead.
But subcontractors assigned to the Palisadoes Road Rehabilitation Project confirmed that they have been paying a 'fee' weekly and fortnightly (depending on how they are paid) to a few well-known men from Rockfort in east Kingston and Port Royal under the watchful eye of a known political activist.
The activities of the extortionists came to light when the men turned their attention to staff members of the China Harbour Engineering Company.
Not prepared to fork out cash to men who are not working on the site, the Chinese, many of whom were manhandled and bullied by the extortionists, wrote to the head of the National Works Agency.
A prominent construction manager suggested that the situation has worsened because of the difficulty of securing employment.
"There haven't been much work for them to poach on," said one experienced contractor. "And so the extortion level is low compared to the past, but in general, extortion has been on the rise ... it is clear that they have been stepping up their activities."
Construction sector dead
The contractor lamented that fewer than five major construction sites worth mentioning are operating in the Corporate Area at this time. He said this was an indication that the economic downturn is levelling the construction sector.
"There is no work going on in Kingston, you only have the Four Seasons Hotel and the Digicel building downtown and a construction site on Millsborough Avenue in Kingston. The industry has died; it is as simple as that."
And so the extortionists have become more creative.
"What you find happening is that the racket has switched from the construction site to people preying on truckers. So you find that if you travel a place like Grants Pen in St Thomas, you find that you have to pay a tax," a contractor reported.
However, The Gleaner was told that there are some contractors to whom the extortionists will not go.
"There are people who they can't come to because they know that those people have muscle. But if you are a single truck owner who travels daily to St Thomas to buy material, you will have to pay the 'don' money and avoid getting shot or you will just have to shut down the business," another said.