Trial expected to continue today
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Jonathan Ash, the key witness in the bribery trial of former Cabinet minister Shane Gibson, said he gave Gibson $80,000 in five separate cash payments to expedite payments owed to him for Hurricane Matthew cleanup.
Ash said the payments were made between January 2017 and March 2017. On the witness stand before Supreme Court Justice Carolita Bethel and a nine-member jury, Ash said he spoke directly to Gibson, both face to face and on WhatsApp.
He said those conversations began in January 2017 and continued up to the general election in May, noting the two had developed rapport.
“Me and him did get to have to little relationship, so I would say I met him face to face or spoke to him on WhatsApp,” said Ash in response to lead prosecutor James Guthrie, QC. “Most of the time he would always call me on WhatsApp. My number is 804-4664. My other cell he used to reach me on for 436-3070. And I can recall his number as 376-3939.”
Asked whether he gave Gibson anything during their meetings, Ash responded: “He wanted shingles.”
Guthrie asked, “What did you understand that to mean?”
“Shingles is cash,” Ash responded.
The former contractor for the National Recovery and Reconstruction Unit (NRRU) said he gave Gibson $25,000 in the first instance when they met on Baha Mar Boulevard; another $25,000 during a meetup off Fire Trail Road; and $10,000 on three more occasions — all in the “form of cash”.
He was unable to provide specific dates for those meetings, but told the court he was “doing the best I can; it’s been almost three years now”. Recalling his engagement in the hurricane relief effort following the storm, which impacted the central and northwest islands in October 2016, Ash said he worked in Centreville for three months following the storm — between October 2016 and January 2017.
He said in the early stages he issued bills between $45,000 and $72,000 per week for work in Centreville, which depended on the number of workers and the heavy-duty equipment brought in for the scope of work, which lasted over three months.
“I tried to be as fair as possible,” he told the court.
According to Ash, he was responsible for sorting, and processing storm debris at the city dump on Tonique Williams Darling-Highway, the dumping site established at the National Sports Stadium, and another site off Bacardi Road.
At one point, the contractor said he had 120 workers — each of whom were making between $50 and $70 per day — and he began paying them out of pocket because the government failed to pay them as agreed.
Ash said after only receiving four payments, the government owed him between $800,000 and over $1 million.
He testified that he visited then Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister Jack Thompson at the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) office sometime in mid-January concerning the outstanding funds and agitated for the government to honor its agreement.
According to Ash, however, Thompson deferred him to Deborah Bastian, the woman whom prosecutors allege received and delivered “dirty money” to Gibson.
Ash claimed he met Bastian and Gibson two to three days later at the government complex off Nassau Street. Guthrie asked what was said during the meeting.
Ash said Gibson introduced himself and informed him that he was responsible for the recovery effort and payments. Ash said he expressed that he had done substantial work for the government, but had not been paid.
According to Ash, Bastian told him to tell Gibson about payments he made to a senior public servant in the Ministry of Works. He told the court he was taken aback by this statement as he did not go to the meeting to “expose anyone”.
When the prosecution asked if he had in fact paid a senior public servant, Ash admitted to doing so.
He told the court: “Yes I give him money. I did give him money, straight up.”
Ash continued: “After she (Bastian) said that, I looked at her like I said and Mr. Gibson smiled. He didn’t really say anything. He got up and walked out the room and said ‘y’all two talk’, meaning me and Ms. Bastian.”
Ash said the pair spoke and following that meeting he withdrew $25,000 twice from Commonwealth Bank.
With the funds in hand, Ash said he contacted Bastian and met her in the parking lot of Commonwealth Bank in Oaks Field where he put the “package” in her car — a blue Japanese vehicle.
When asked when he next saw Bastian, Ash said he met her sometime the next day at NEMA. He said he was presented a cheque of $250,000, and subsequently received almost $1 million in cheques.
The key witness said he made several more payments to Bastian totaling $200,000.
Ash alleged that on one occasion Bastian presented a Public Treasury cheque for him to his bank, which he was contacted about as he was out of the country.
He said of the funds deposited, he instructed the bank to provide Bastian with another “between $20,000 and $25,000 and I told her to make sure she signed for it as I wasn’t on the island”.
Guthrie said Ash’s banking records would be explored later on during the trial.
When asked by the Queen’s Counsel how many payments he made to Bastian in total, Ash said, “I can’t really say because it just happened so quickly, but I know I gave her lump sums.”
Ash also claimed that on two occasions after he made payments to Bastian, he saw her and Gibson together by happenstance: once at the Esso gas station on John F. Kennedy Drive, and a second time in Prospect Ridge.
The second sighting reportedly took place around one or two hours after Bastian was allegedly paid, and Ash claimed she and Gibson were sitting in the then minister’s Kia.