Barbara Gayle, Justice Coordinator
Five years after 70-year-old blind businessman Ben Munroe and his secretary, Lillian Chambers, were freed of charges of defrauding depositors of more than $70 million to build houses at Edward Heights, St Andrew, some depositors have still not recovered one cent of their money.
Deposits were made to the Low-Income Family Foundation (LIFF), which was started in the 1980s, although it was not registered until 1991.
LIFF, which Munroe chaired, was established because of the inability of people from the lower-income bracket to access funding to build houses.
Munroe and Chambers were arrested and charged in 2001 after it was alleged that they had collected more than $70 million from approximately 400 depositors to build four-bedroom houses for $650,000 each in Edward Heights.
The depositors alleged that they did not get the houses, and despite repeated requests, they did not get back their money.
Evidence from nine complainants
There were 100 complainants, but the Crown elected to proceed with evidence from nine complainants who had deposited about $900,000 with LIFF.
On January 5, 2007, Munroe and his secretary were freed of the charges of fraudulent conversion and conspiracy to defraud after then Senior Resident Magistrate Martin Gayle upheld no-case submissions from defence lawyers Ravil Golding and Dwight Reece after the Crown closed its case.
One of the depositors, 70-year-old Vincy Coleman, last week told The Sunday Gleaner that she almost closed her savings account in 1996 when she withdrew $330,000 from her bank to deposit on five houses, one for her and the others for her four children.
She said when she visited the LIFF office in 1996, she was told that $30,000 was to purchase shares to help with the mortgage and $36,000 was down payment for each house.
According to Coleman, "At the time, I kept a close eye on the progress of the scheme."
Nothing but promises
There was road construction and the clearing of bushes on the land for the housing scheme "but that soon came to an end, so I requested a refund of the money, but to date, there has been nothing but promises".
She said that in 2010, she went in search of Munroe and told him she could not afford that kind of loss and he said her money was not lost.
Coleman alleged that Munroe told her that he took the person who had sold him the land to court and won, so all the depositors would be repaid with interest.
"To date, I am still at square one," Coleman lamented.
She said she is suffering as a result of the loss of almost all of her savings.
Several attempts by The Sunday Gleaner to get in touch with Munroe were unsuccessful.
The news team was referred to a man who said he was a representative of LIFF. He said he is trying to see if overseas assistance could be obtained in order to refund the depositors.