Crown describes conspiracy scheme in Manchester fraud trial

Crown describes conspiracy scheme in Manchester fraud trial

Thursday, January 16, 2020

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PORUS, Manchester — The prosecution will today continue its PowerPoint presentation, showing the court here, how three former senior employees of the Manchester Municipal Corporation masterminded a scheme that defrauded the corporation of hundreds of millions of dollars.

The two-member team began closing arguments last Thursday, after fending off accusations by the defence of witness interference, among other allegations of prosecutorial misconduct, dismissing them as “unfounded”.

The five-member defence team concluded their no-case submissions last week Wednesday, making way for the Crown to commence its own closing arguments.

The prosecutors will be seeking, over the next two days, to convince the court, presided over by Parish Judge Ann Marie Grainger, how accused former senior staffers Sanja Elliott, David Harris and Kendale Roberts were able to devise a scheme that swindled amounts of up to $400 million of municipal funds that went undetected by in-house and external audits.

The Crown will also be endeavouring to reveal the role of the eight accused before the court, that made them each party to the alleged multimillion-dollar conspiracy to defraud the then Manchester Parish Council (now Manchester Municipal Corporation).

The prosecution, with the aid of PowerPoint presentations and the citing of case laws, last week delved into the unravelling of the alleged scheme, which began with the siphoning off of $10 million from the corporation between the beginning of 2014 and the end of 2016.

The prosecution identified Elliott, the former road and works deputy superintendent, as the mastermind of the scheme.

Together with Harris, the then director of finance, and Roberts, the former works overseer, the Crown alleged that Elliott created fake contractor invoices and payment vouchers that generated parish council cheques in random and arbitrary amounts.

These cheques, the Crown claims, were drawn in the name of friends of Elliott masquerading as contractors, purported to be carrying out beautification, water delivery and other public works that were never done in various Manchester parish council divisions.

Outlining the role of each of the three defendants in the alleged racket, the prosecution said that Elliott used his authority under Section 6 of the Parochial Roads Act to initiate public works and went on to sign vouchers authorising the work. Roberts, as works overseer, verified that the work was done by certifying the invoices, while Harris, in his capacity as secretary manager and finance director, signed off on the invoices, enabling corporation cheques to be prepared in the names of fake contractors, with the proceeds finding their way back into the pockets of the alleged conspirators.

At this point the prosecution brought two other defendants into the alleged conspiracy, Dwayne Sibblies — whom the Crown identified as a gardener employed to Elliott — and former commercial bank teller Radcliff McLean. Sibblies, the Crown asserted, operated as an intermediary who either accompanied the contractors to the bank, or he himself encashed cheques on a third party basis, turning over the proceeds to Elliott.

The prosecution is alleging McLean was the point man at the bank, who facilitated the encashing of cheques, and that he did so, in instances, against stated bank policies related to the negotiation of third party cheques.

Judge Grainger questioned the extent of the evidence against McLean, in so far as it linked him to the conspiracy alleged by the Crown. She said last Friday, during the Crown's submissions, that given the evidence there were no irregularities identified by bank authorities concerning the transactions associated with McLean, and that she wished to hear more from the submissions of the Crown that addressed his alleged role as one of the conspirators.

In response to the judge, the prosecution argued that in light of the frequency and manner in which McLean carried out the transactions, the Crown was asking the court to draw “reasonable inferences” from McLean's actions that are “in the Crown's favour”.

The prosecution sought to consolidate its case of a conspiracy afoot, by linking, over time, a series of mobile phone text messages allegedly between Elliott, Harris and Roberts, with what appeared to be the random and arbitrary allocation of public work, the names of payees, and the sums of money to be paid out. The Crown claimed that the subsequent payouts, the dates, names, and amounts, coincided with the information on the vouchers, invoices and cheques in evidence, and supported the inference that the men were engaged in illicit activities.

The Crown named several witnesses whom it said had testified under oath that they were not contractors doing any work on behalf of the municipal corporation, yet they were collecting, cashing cheques and passing on the proceeds to Elliott.

The judge, however, wished to be informed if the text messages, as presented by the prosecution in court, occurred in the same sequence on the phones from which the data was extracted or were selected from among other communications.

It was not clear in court if the Crown's response addressed the query to the approval of the judge.

Other defendants before the court are Elliott's wife, Tashagay, and his parents Edwardo and Myrtle.

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