Court orders forfeiture of $4m found at businessman’s home
Cash totalling $4,007,800, which was found at the home of a controversial real estate developer, has been ordered forfeited to the Government under Jamaica’s proceeds of crime law.
The cash was found in a suitcase at the St Catherine home of businessman Orpheus Stennett during a surprise police operation on November 1, 2019, according to court documents obtained by The Sunday Gleaner last week relating to his forfeiture hearing, which ended in September this year.
Parish Court Judge Alicia McIntosh granted the forfeiture order in the St Catherine Parish Court on September 29, ruling that she found, on a balance of probability, that the cash was obtained from unlawful conduct or was to be used for unlawful conduct.
Attorneys representing the developer have already filed a legal challenge asking the Court of Appeal to overturn McIntosh’s ruling.
Stennett reportedly claimed in court that the cops had sought his assistance in an unrelated case involving other police personnel and that the $4 million was for a sting operation, which he backed away from at the eleventh hour.
Among the court documents obtained by The Sunday Gleaner was an affidavit filed by the lead police investigator in support of an application by the Asset Recovery Agency (ARA) for over $4 million to be forfeited to the Government through the Proceeds of Crime Act.
The ARA is an arm of the Financial Investigations Division, the state agency mandated to enforce the proceeds of crime law.
According to the investigator’s statement, a notebook with the name “Peter Sean Hibbert [taken to be Petre Sean Hibbert]” and the sum of $4 million beside it; and the name Yanique Harrison with the sum of $5 million beside it was also seized at the developer’s home.
Hibbert and Harrison both reside at the New Harbour Village home, it said.
CONVICTED ON COCAINE CHARGES
Seventeen days before the search of Stennett’s home, Hibbert was intercepted by cops from the Narcotics Division transporting several packages of cocaine in a motor vehicle owned by Harrison, the investigator disclosed.
Hibbert was convicted on February 5, 2021 for possession of cocaine and trafficking cocaine and sentenced to 12 months in prison and fines of $100,000 for each offence, the Narcotics Police confirmed to The Sunday Gleaner on Friday.
The court documents contained no assertion that Harrison was ever charged with any crime.
The lead detective, who is a police sergeant, revealed, too, that his investigation showed that Harrison and Stennett both reside at another home in Kingston 10 and that she is “intricately tied to the defendant’s business”.
As an example, he said Harrison is listed as the secretary for the businessman’s company and that they were co-owners of a 2016 Mercedes-Benz motor car.
The police sergeant claimed that “the facts reveal a nexus” among Stennett, Hibbert and Harrison, citing their living arrangements and “purported cash dealings in excess of one million Jamaican dollars”.
Further, he charged that Hibbert and Harrison were “connected in acts involving the trafficking of cocaine” days before the seizure of $4,007,800 in a suitcase that was “partially under a bed”.
“In the circumstances, it is believed that the cash seized from the defendant Orpheus Stennett was obtained through unlawful conduct or was intended to be used in unlawful conduct,” said the police investigator in his statement.
But the businessman challenged the application, claiming through his attorneys that cops wanted him to give evidence in an unrelated case of alleged police corruption.
The $4 million, he reportedly explained, was to be used as part of a sting operation by the police in that case. But the businessman claimed he backed out at the last minute and that’s when cops told him the money would be seized and he would have to attend court to explain how he obtained the cash.
However, McIntosh, the presiding judge, rejected Stennett’s claim, ruling that his account of how the cash was found inside his home was not credible.
She noted, too, that Stennett presented no good reason to explain why the sums of $4 million and $5 million were beside Hibbert’s and Harrison’s names, respectively, in the notebook seized by the police.
ORDERED TO CEASE CONSTRUCTION OF APARTMENT
Stennett made headlines in October 2020 when the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation (KSAMC) ordered his company to cease work on a multi-family apartment complex at 9 Evans Avenue in St Andrew.
The order came amid a Sunday Gleaner probe which raised questions about potential violations.
The businessman admitted at the time that he had been proceeding without court approval to modify the restrictive covenants – a legal contract among residents that seeks to preserve their development preferences in the upscale, single-dwelling Kingston 8 residential neighbourhood.
In January 2022, he consented to a court-ordered injunction obtained by the KSAMC compelling him to stop work on the complex. The local authority alleged that the construction was contrary to building and planning approvals.