Joey defies Committee

The Cayman Islands Financial Reporting Authority has been made aware of a $51,747 cash payment ex-Boatswain’s Beach/Turtle Farm Managing Director Joey Ebanks made to settle salary advances/loans from his former employer.

During a Public Accounts Committee meeting investigating the matter last week, Mr. Ebanks declined to comment about the source of the cash he used to repay the salary advances.

‘That fact…has no relevance here today,’ Mr. Ebanks said to the PAC members. ‘If there’s any committee member here who feels there was a breach of law, they are required to take that to the police.’

Cayman Islands Auditor General Dan Duguay told the PAC that he had no evidence any laws had been broken by the cash payoff.

‘I don’t have any evidence…that would compel me to go to the [Royal Cayman Islands Police Service] in this matter,’ he said.

The Cayman Islands Financial Reporting Authority, however, reviews unusual bank transactions and will forward information about any reports it receives to the appropriate agencies – including the police – if necessary.

Mr. Duguay noted that neither Boatswain’s Beach officials nor bank managers who received the deposit that came from Mr. Ebanks had stated specifically where the cash for the debt repayment had come from.

A receipt for the deposit said the payment was being made for ‘business operations’ at the tourism facility.

‘In this case, ‘business operations’ is a less-than-complete description of the activities that generated these cash transactions,’ Mr. Duguay said Thursday.

In past interviews with the Caymanian Compass, Mr. Ebanks said he sold his private boat to pay off the money owed in salary advances/loans.

An audit by Mr. Duguay showed that Mr. Ebanks received 16 separate salary advances/loans for various amounts while at Boatswain’s Beach. The total amount approved for those loans was $65,871.61. Following negotiations with the Turtle Farm’s chief financial officer and human resources manager, an amount of $49,847.87 was authorised for repayment. Some $16,000 had already been repaid by Mr. Ebanks, according to audit records.

Mr. Ebanks also had to repay some $1,900 he was given in turtle meat from the farm.

None of those loans were approved by the Turtle Farm’s board of directors and Mr. Duguay said proper documentation was found for only one of the 16 loans.

Two high-ranking members of Boatswain’s Beach/Cayman Turtle Farm management have disputed several claims made by Mr. Ebanks regarding salary advances he received while working at the farm between 2007 and early 2009.

Those employees also rebutted claims made earlier by Mr. Ebanks that a $6,500 tab he ran up at Schooner’s Bar on the Turtle Farm property over the course of several months was for promotional purposes. Most of that money was spent on alcohol and cigarettes.

Mr. Ebanks told the committee that the money was used, in certain instances, to buy drinks for people who had come to the Boatswain’s Beach bar. He said the goal was to increase patronage on Friday nights in particular.

Turtle Farm Human Resource Manager Joelle McCrae, who has also managed the bar area since 2005, was asked by PAC Chairman Ezzard Miller whether he supported Mr. Ebanks’ use of some $6,500 in entertainment expenses.

‘My conversation with Mr. Ebanks about promoting Schooner’s did not go along these lines at all,’ Mr. McCrae said, adding that he was unaware such promotional policies even existed.

According to Mr. McCrae, an email sent to Turtle Farm staff in October 2008 indicated that only managers were allowed to run up bar tabs and that those were limited to $100 per month. Mr. Duguay’s audit showed tabs in Mr. Ebanks’ name totalled more than $300 for one night in certain cases.

Mr. Ebanks said all of these measures occurred against a backdrop of an organisation that was losing hundreds of thousands of dollars a month. He also said the staff turnover rate at the Turtle Farm was too high, and efforts were being made to keep employees there.

‘The Boatswain’s Beach project has always been…in the media and under attack and had a tremendous amount of negative publicity,’ Mr. Ebanks said.

Mr. Ebanks said he accepted full responsibility for the salary advances/loans situation and apologised to the committee members for the situation.

However, he disputed some of the findings in Mr. Duguay’s bar bill audit, stating he had not run up three of the bills. Mr. Ebanks maintained that Mr. Duguay declined to allow him to explain that situation. The auditor general denied that, stating Mr. Ebanks had been given ample time to respond.