Jamaica Observer: Mandeville, Manchester — The closely watched $400-million Manchester Municipal Corporation fraud trial came to an end yesterday with the conviction of five of the remaining seven defendants after what Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) Paula Llewellyn described as a very difficult case to prosecute but which resulted in a strike against corruption.

“It had a lot of technical issues. The documentary material was very voluminous, and certainly I have to commend my team of prosecutors. They did very well in sometimes very challenging circumstances,” Llewellyn told the Jamaica Observer after the verdict was handed down by Senior Parish Judge Ann Marie Grainger in a four-hour-long summation.

Main accused 35-year-old Sanja Elliott, the corporation’s former deputy superintendent of road and works, was found guilty of 17 of the 25-count indictment that listed the various charges against the defendants.

The charges included conspiracy to defraud, engaging in a transaction that involves criminal property, several counts of possession of criminal property, facilitating the retention of criminal property, obtaining money by false pretences, causing money to be paid out by means of a false document, three counts of acts of corruption, and uttering false documents.

The others found guilty are Elliott’s wife, Tashagaye Elliott Goulbourne; two former employees of the corporation, David Harris, secretary/manager and acting chief executive officer; and Kendale Roberts, temporary works overseer. Dwayne Sibblies, a former employee of Sanja Elliott, who had told the court that he was a construction worker, is the fifth defendant convicted

Those freed at the end of the 11-month-long trial are Sanja Elliott’s mother, Myrtle Elliott, and former commercial bank teller Radcliffe McLean.

In January, Sanja Elliott’s father and husband of Myrtle Elliott, Elwardo, was the first to be freed in the trial. He was dismissed of a charge of facilitating the retention of criminal property in relation to an apartment building owned by his son Sanja, and deemed to be a proceed of crime.

St James Municipal Corporation

In a ground-breaking live audio stream, precipitated by the novel coronavirus pandemic’s distancing restrictions, Judge Grainger handed down her judgement from James Warehouse Plaza in the Mandeville town centre, which has been used as a court venue since a mysterious pre-dawn fire damaged the Mandeville courthouse last November.

The bail of all five has been extended for them to return for sentencing on July 27.

Reflecting on the journey to the judgement, Llewellyn pointed out that it was investigated by the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA), the Financial Investigations Division (FID) and the then Office of the Contractor General.

She recalled that her office was called in about 18 months after the case had started.

“It was about a year and a half after it had been taken before the Manchester Parish Court that the clerk of court, on the directive of the judge in the parish court, was asked to get in touch with us at the Office of the DPP. And, having just taken the most cursory look at it, we realised that in the public interest we would have to bring to bear our experience as prosecutors and take over the matter,” Llewellyn explained.

“Thereafter, I assigned a team and we got in touch with MOCA and FID, we had mutually beneficial consultation and we commenced the preparation of the matter. But it was so voluminous that it took my team weeks and weeks in terms of going over the material, but we got good support from MOCA,” she said.

The DPP said the three members of her team  Channa Ormsby, Patrice Hickson, and Jamelia Simpson  had to rely on their case law and their attention to detail, which she described as first-class.

“It was a very hard-fought contest between the prosecution and the defence counsel,” Llewellyn related, pointing out that in addition to the “thousands of documents” that her team had to examine, 46 witnesses were called by the Crown.

St James Municipal Corporation

“But the investigators gave us very good support, because if you may recall that the judge in her summation referred to the fact that at least three or four of the critical witnesses for the Crown could, based on the evidence, be classified as accomplices,” she said.

“I think it is a great success that should be celebrated  that you had good people, citizens of Jamaica, who though they knew these persons well, nonetheless were able to give good evidence,” the DPP said.

“This is a case that really showed you that to do these kinds of cases properly and well, what is desired is early consultation and collaboration between all the stakeholders; and if it is so complex that you recognise that you’re going to have to involve the Office of the DPP  early collaboration. I thought it was a little unfortunate that they waited a while… before we got into it, but I guess better late than never,” Llewellyn said.

“But we really have to celebrate and commend the witnesses. You get good results in any case  whether it be corruption cases, fraud cases, or murder cases  when you have cogent, credible, reliable, relevant, admissible evidence. And invariably, certainly in fraud cases, documentary material is important, but you still will need the viva voce testimony of the witnesses who know what these documents are about, or who are the ones who handled the documents, or who are the ones who can create the nexus between the documents and the accused in the final analysis; that is how you are able to establish a good case,” the DPP said.

She also noted that the judge gave a very detailed and thorough summation. “It was almost a textbook summation,” the DPP said.