Defendants $9,000 granted bail by the Supreme Court
NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Former Urban Renewal Deputy Director Michelle Reckley was arraigned in a magistrate’s court yesterday with five others over a litany of corruption charges, including money laundering, extortion, fraud and abetment to fraud.
A total of 41 charges were levied at the defendants, which included Reckley, 49, James Nathaniel Hall, 49, Christopher Symonette, 59, Kylon Vincent, 26, Stefanie Collie, 27, and Joseph Lightbourne, 40.
James Wildgoose, 28, of Hampshire Drive, was also named on the court dockets in relation to several charges, but he was not present in court.
Reckley, Collie, Vincent and Symonette were brought before Chief Magistrate Joyann Ferguson-Pratt after 5 p.m. Tuesday, but could not be arraigned as the prosecution was unable to provide the court with properly constructed dockets.
There was no named complainant.
Yesterday, courts dockets indicated that Minister of Social Services Frankie Campbell is the chief witness in the matter, along with Melvin Seymour, Toni Hudson Bannister and five named police officers.
To each of the charges brought against them, the defendants submitted a chorus of not guilty pleas before a packed courtroom predominantly made up of Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) supporters and relatives.
Former Prime Minister Perry Christie, his wife, Bernadette, and daughter, Alex, were sat among them.
Reckley, a campaign manager of the PLP who was appointed head of the Urban Renewal program in Grand Bahama in 2012 under the Christie administration, received the bulk of the corruption charges yesterday.
She was accused of defrauding the government of $1,255,637.83 through the Urban Renewal Small Homes Repair program in Grand Bahama; laundering $317,822.48; attempting to launder $172,646.18; extorting $71,062.18 and participating in $230,000 worth of corruption transactions among the named defendants.
The magistrate did not have the jurisdiction to determine bail.
Attorney Wayne Munroe, QC, who represents Symonette, advised Ferguson-Pratt that applications for bail were already before the Supreme Court and asked for the court’s assistance in fast-tracking the defendants’ transfer to the Central Police Station.
Outside the Supreme Court, a crowd of PLP supporters shouted “freedom” as the defendants were escorted into the courthouse for their bail hearing.
They were released on $9,000 bail and two sureties each.
It was alleged that between December 9-13, 2016, Reckley and Hall fraudulently obtained payments from the government totalling $241,528 as a mobilization payment for contracts issued to Hall under the government’s SHR program in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew; and another payment of $73,041.51 between December 12, 2016 and January 6, 2017.
Prosecutors alleged that between February 15-16, 2017, Reckley and Hall conspired together to defraud the government of $246,216 — a final payment for the contract issued to Hall under the SHR program.
They were also accused of defrauding the government of another $172,277.47 between March 16-20, 2017; and a further payment of $267,280 during the same period.
It was further alleged that between April 20-25, 2017, Reckley defrauded the government of $255,294.85 as a second payment issued to Hall for a contract related to the SHR program.
Additionally, prosecutors accused Reckley of laundering $30,000 on November 30, 2016; $11,062.18 on December 30, 2016; and a further $200,000 on March 20, 2017.
She was also accused of laundering $47,760, by transferring a cheque in that amount from her CIBC bank account to Collie between March 20, 2017, and June 17, 2017; transferring $26,000 by cheque to Vincent between March 17, 2017 and May 13, 2017; transferring $3,000 by cheque to Wildgoose on or about April 7, 2017.
It was alleged that she attempted to transfer $172,646.18 to her Teachers and Salaried Workers Credit Union account on or about July 13, 2017.
The former Urban Renewal deputy director was also accused of extorting, under the cover of her office, $30,000 from Hall on or about November 30, 2016; $11,062.18 from Symonette on or about December 30, 2016; and another $30,000 from Hall on or about March 20, 2017.
She was further accused of corruptly accepting a sum of $200,000 from Hall as a reward for assisting him with the grant of a government contract under the SHR program on or about March 20, 2017; and $30,000 as a reward for assisting him with grant of a government contract to repair the Bartlette Hill Primary School in Eight Mile Rock.
The judge read the charges for Hall, which included money laundering on or about December 2016 in the amount of $241,497.
Prosecutors alleged that he transferred $241,497 from his CIBC account to Symonette on or about January 13, 2017, and transferred another $72,995 to Symonette on or about January 13, 2017.
Hall faced two more counts of money laundering.
Hall was also accused of transferring — $246,000 and $439,500— from his CIBC account to Symonette and Associates on or about February 24, 2017, and on or about March 20, 2017, respectively.
It was further alleged that Hall corruptly gave Reckley $200,000 on or about March 20, 2017, as a reward for assisting him obtain a government contract, and another $30,000 on or about November 30, 2016.
The particular charge read that Reckley corruptly gave herself the money, which prosecutors had to amend.
Meanwhile, prosecutors alleged that between December 5, 2016, and April 24, 2017, Collie knowingly, suspected or had reasonable grounds to suspect that Reckley was engaged in criminal conduct or benefitted from such conducted, but entered into an arrangement that facilitated the concealment of Reckley’s proceeds of criminal conduct.
It was alleged that Collie cashed cheques received from Reckley, including a $47,760 cheque between January 17, 2017, and June 16, 2017.
She allegedly cashed another cheque from Symonette in the amount of $79,000 between June 16, 2017, and December 27, 2018, prosecutors claim.
On another count of money laundering, it was alleged that Symonette, Wildgoose and Vincent had reasonable grounds to suspect that $1.25 million transferred between December 5, 2016, and April 24, 2017, to a CIBC account belonging to Symonette and Associates (Freeport) represented the proceeds of “another’s criminal conduct”.
Ferguson-Pratt asked the prosecution who the “another” referenced in the charge was, to which the prosecutor Eucal Bonaby said that would be revealed during the trial.
Munroe said the defense was not satisfied with the response and advised the court of plans to file for discovery.
Lightbourne was charged with two counts of abetment to fraud by false pretenses between March 16-20, 2017, and April 20-25, 2017 respectively.
The six defendants were additionally charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit fraud.
In addition to Munroe, Jomo Campbell, Owen Wells, and Anthony McKinney, QC, represent Symonette.
Damian Gomez, QC, Philip McKenzie, Carlson Shurland, QC, represent Vincent, Reckley and Collie.
Attorney Simeon Brown represents Hall and Lightbourne.
The matter was adjourned to March 18 for a status hearing.
Ferguson-Pratt noted that the timeframe would allow for Wildgoose, if he is brought to court, to have the charges read to him.
There was also a question of which magistrate would hear the case.
Ferguson-Pratt indicated that the Deputy Chief Magistrate Subusola Swain could hear the matter, however, Gomez disclosed that he represents the magistrate in a number of civil matters, one of which was ongoing.
Noting that there were “unique characteristics” involved in the matter, namely Campbell as a chief witness, Brown said, “This has all the characteristics of a political prosecution and perhaps this is why the [court] is filled in the manner it is filled right now…”
He added, “Whoever the magistrate is that deal with this, must be able to function in a totality impartial manner.”
The judge responded, “That goes without saying”.
She advised that she would speak to Swain before transferring the case to avoid the matter being bounced around if the deputy chief magistrate saw the need to recuse herself for any reason, including Gomez’s disclosure.