A memorandum issued after Hurricane Ivan allowed certain persons to enter the Cayman Islands, but it did not allow them to work.
After hearing that evidence from Chief Immigration Officer Franz Manderson, along with other testimony, Magistrate Margaret Ramsay-Hale found a young businessman guilty of offences against the Immigration Law.
Last week, she fined Wayne Belafonte $3,750 for employing five persons without work permits plus $1,500 for three charges of making false statements on work permit applications. The total was $5,250.
Defence Attorney Sheridan Brooks indicated later that the conviction would be appealed.
Belafonte, a former police officer, had started a construction business after Hurricane Ivan hit Grand Cayman in September 2004.
In her judgment, the magistrate summarised the situation after Ivan. Cayman’s borders were closed and no visitors were allowed. The memo referred to was faxed from the Chief Immigration Officer to airline managers regarding entry to Cayman; without it persons would not be allowed to board the aircraft.
It stated: ‘I write to advise that the following persons have been granted permission to enter the Cayman Islands to assist in hurricane relief.’ The names of the permitted individuals then followed.
The Defence argued that this memo was acknowledging that people were coming here to work. It made no reference to permits and in the circumstances after the storm Belafonte was entitled to believe that no permits were required.
In giving evidence, Belafonte told the court that he filled out the form given him by Immigration to get the men here from Jamaica. He said he was not told permits were needed. Later, when he heard they were required, he immediately made the applications.
The men continued working while the applications were pending.
In finding Belafonte guilty of employing persons without work permits, the magistrate declared, ‘The hurricane washed away houses and trees. It did not wash away the laws of these islands.’
The onus was on the employer to make inquiries, she said. Ignorance of the law is not an excuse.
The essence of the offence of making false statements was that the applications said the men would be employed as labourers.
Crown Counsel Tanya Lobban brought the workers as witnesses and they gave evidence of their qualifications as electrician, carpenter, plumber and so on.
One man maintained he had been asked by Belafonte to gather skilled workers and he himself was hired as foreman. This was denied by the defendant but the man produced a letter from Belafonte telling him what was required of the foreman on the work site.
The magistrate said she would have accepted this man’s evidence even without the letter. She found all of the workers to be witnesses of truth.
Even if the false statements about the men being labourers were made by an agent, it was the defendant who supplied the information and caused the statements to be made, the magistrate said.
In mitigation, Ms Brooks pointed out that the defendant’s business was a young one and there was no evidence he had made any substantial profit. She asked the court to bear in mind the circumstances in which offences were committed.
Ms Brooks also indicated her client’s concern about what these convictions would do to his good character.
The magistrate said that these offences were not a matter of character, but a matter of business exigency. She accepted the defendant as a man of good character who needed to perform certain functions in the business world and took a short cut.
She also accepted that the workers might have been used as much for common labour as for skilled work, but her finding was that they were not hired as labourers.