NASSAU, BAHAMAS — After more than two days of cross examination in the bribery trial of former Cabinet minister Shane Gibson, the prosecution’s key witness, contractor Jonathan Ash yesterday maintained his stance that he bribed the former public official.
Gibson is on trial for allegedly receiving $280,000 in bribes from Ash between January 2017 and March 2017 to expedite payments owed to him by the government for work done on five dumpsites and in Centreville in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in October 2016.
Ash testified this week that he paid Deborah Bastian, a government official, $200,000 on Gibson’s behalf.
He further claimed to have paid Gibson $80,000 in cash during secret meetings, beginning in February 2017.
While being cross examined by Gibson’s lead attorney Keith Knight, QC, Ash maintained Gibson contacted him for “shingles” — a term he said was used for money — in February 2017.
However, after he was shown his signed statement made to authorities, in which he claimed Gibson contacted him for shingles in March 2017, the contractor said he stood by that statement made on June 28, 2017.
Knight asserted that Ash lied when he testified Gibson was referring to money when he asked him in a WhatsApp message “any shingles today?”
The defense attorney said Gibson’s request had nothing to do with money.
Ash refuted this, immediately outlining alleged payments he made “personally” to Gibson: $25,000 in the first instance between February 10-14, 2017, on Baha Mar Boulevard; another $25,000 on Gladstone Road in the second instance where he said Gibson was allegedly in a blue F150.
Additional extracts of WhatsApp correspondence between Ash and Gibson were exhibited by the defense Friday. The court was shown a photo of a pile of roofing shingles on the ground that Ash sent the then minister.
Gibson was responsible for the hurricane recovery effort.
Ash confirmed he took the photo while clearing Golden Gates, the constituency Gibson represented as the member of Parliament.
The court also heard a voice note dated February 3, 2017, in which the contractor told Gibson he had dropped “some shingles” off for him.
Ash testified in that instance he was referring to money for Gibson.
“Even though you sent photographs of shingles, you’re telling me in this [voice note] that when you used the word shingles, you meant money?” Knight asked.
Ash replied: “Yes sir.”
When Knight asked Ash if he recalled giving evidence that Gibson contacted him in March 2017, asking if he had “any shingles today”, the contractor responded: “It’s possible.”
The defense attorney then asked if he ever recalled “saying” Gibson started calling him in March 2017.
Ash asked: “In the month of March?”
“Yes,” Knight confirmed.
Ash replied: “Not in the month of March.”
The contractor was shown his signed statement before being asked yet again if he recalled stating that Gibson begun to call him in March 2017 from his cellphone.
“Do you recall saying ‘Mr. Gibson introduced himself to me and told me that he needed some shingles, which I knew to be the street name for cash’. Do you recall saying that? Was that true? Knight asked.
Ash replied: “I stand on my statement.”
Knight, who confirmed Ash’s cellphone number, continued: “Any shingles today’, was in February?
Ash answered: “Okay. He asked for shingles…”.
Knight interjected: No, no. What I heard earlier, ‘any shingles today’, that was in February of 2017, correct?
Ash replied: “Yes.”
At one point during questioning about his use of the term ‘shingles’, Ash made the sign of the cross and held his hands together as if praying.
Despite insisting he had not dropped off a “bundle of shingles” or delivered roofing shingles to Gibson, the contractor noted in cleaning up after the storm he collected and transferred trash, garbage material and “shingles that fell off the roof”.
Asked if he transferred shingles used to replace those that fell off roofs, Ash said: “Not in that context”.
The defense asked Ash if he recalled a ‘Brian’ messaging him in December 2016, for brokering concerning items at Betty K, but the contractor said he was he was “uncertain”.
Ash claimed he met Bastian and Gibson at a “pink building” on Meeting Street — two to three days after Jack Thompson, the then permanent secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, referred him to Bastian in mid-January concerning the government’s failure to pay him.
According to Ash, he began making payments to Bastian following that meeting.
While Ash insisted he did now know Bastian before he was referred to her by Thompson, phone records showed 33 calls between them months earlier — none of which Ash recalled.
The court also heard Thursday that Ash and Bastian had differences in their statements to authorities.
Referring to a meeting on September 25, 2017, involving Ash, his attorney Alicia Bowe, Bastian, Bastian’s attorney ‘Mr. Rolle’ and Assistant Superintendent Thompson, Knight probed whether that meeting was for the purpose of Ash and Bastian synchronizing their statements.
Ash refuted the suggestion.
He said the officer wanted to “know the truth” when Knight asked if Thompson stated the purpose of the meeting was to clear up some ambiguity between Ash and Bastian’s statements.
When pressed on the nature of the meeting and whether Thompson met with them to ensure “both of you agreed in your respective statements”, Ash claimed he could not recall and suggested Knight was seeking to put words in his mouth.
However, when asked whether there were differences between his and Bastian’s statement to police, Ash replied: “There might have been some”.
The court also heard that Ash erected a number of billboards of Gibson as part of his reelection campaign ahead of the May 10 general election as a “favour”. He said although he did not believe the MP would be reelected, he wanted Gibson to win.
In another voice note to Gibson in April 2017, Ash said: “Ya looking good. Ya looking good.”
Despite noting that he had means to access former Prime Minister Perry Christie by telephone, Ash said he could not recall ever messaging the then prime minister about Gibson and the alleged bribes he was paying him.
Ash acknowledged Christie was Gibson’s boss.
Under cross on Thursday, Ash said he told a senior public servant no one could pressure him for money and if anyone did he would go to their boss.
As Knight reminded him of the statement, Ash said: “I said that, yes.”
Ash’s testimony is expected to continue on Monday at 10 a.m.