Calls it a novel matter
Justice Charles Quin adjourned sentencing last week after hearing how Paul Russell Lankford obtained property by deception during Foster’s Food Fair “Punch and Play” promotion in 2010.
“It’s not straightforward; it’s a very novel matter,” the judge commented in explaining why he wanted time to consider it. He set sentencing for 14 February.
Crown Counsel Michael Snape explained the background to Lankford’s offences. He said Foster’s issued “scratch” cards to customers, who would get the card punched with a special punch after spending certain amounts in the store. When the card was fully punched, the customer could scratch it to see what prize had been won, but this had to be done in the presence of a store employee.
Mr. Snape said 130,000 cards were issued and most of them had a $1 prize. Foster’s kept a register of the serial numbers of all cards along with the corresponding prize for each.
With any prize over $50, the odds against scratching that amount became increasingly high, he indicated. The two top cash prizes were $5,000. The grand prize of $10,000 was won by a draw, not on a card.
Lankford presented three separate cards to get money at three different stores; he was successful twice, Mr. Snape summarised.
On 25 August, 2010, he presented a card at Republix in West Bay and the amount was $2,500. Staff were not happy with the condition of the card in terms of how it looked and they refused to pay the money.
Later that day Lankford went to Foster’s Countryside in Savannah. There he redeemed a $100 card and received $100 cash. Later, it turned out that card had been tampered with. The serial number of the card showed that the prize should have been $1, but when scratched it showed $100.
Justice Quin asked if the $1 had been altered to look like $100. Mr. Snape said yes.
The next transaction was the one that alerted Foster’s, Mr. Snape said. On 10 September, 2010, Lankford went to Foster’s in East End with a young woman who was his girlfriend at the time. The card presented was scratched and it appeared to be for $5,000. “From the register, we know it was for $1 but it had been altered,” he told the court.
Foster’s East End paid out the prize with a cheque, Mr. Snape continued. Then as they did with all big winners, they took a photograph of Lankford and his girlfriend and put it on a display board. The photo showed the couple holding up the cheque.
That same day, because of the photos, Foster’s staff became aware of Lankford apparently winning two big prizes. Given the low number of cards with high prizes, staff matched the cards to the register of serial numbers and found that the cards were actually for $1.
Lankford was contacted and he returned $4,500 of the $5,000. The other $600 has also been repaid.
Justice Quin asked why the matter had taken so long to come to court.
Defence Attorney John Furniss explained that the girlfriend had also been charged and she elected Grand Court. He said Lankford had been willing to plead guilty in Summary Court. Once the matter came to the higher court, there was a delay while the Crown decided whether to proceed against her.
Mr. Snape said the young woman had told police the Lankford gave her the card and asked her to present it at the store. She cashed the cheque and then handed the money over to him.
“An innocent conduit?” Justice Quin inquired. Mr. Snape said yes.
In September 2012, Lankford pleaded guilty to obtaining property by deception, theft, and attempting to obtain by deception. The young woman, represented by Attorney Nicholas Hoffman, returned to Grand Court in October, when the Crown withdrew all charges against her. Justice Quin, who was presiding at the time, said she was “free to go, with no stain on her character”.
In mitigation last week, Mr. Furniss emphasised that Lankford was not the creator of the false cards he used to obtain money. “He was handed them, he stupidly took them… he knew the cards were altered by this other individual, but he didn’t know for what amount,” the attorney summarised.
Lankford now wished he had never done it. He had been drinking heavily around that time, but had sorted himself out. He was now employed with an opportunity for promotion, he had written a letter apologising to Foster’s and he had scored very low in an assessment for risk of reoffending.
There was no breach of trust in the offences, Mr. Furniss pointed out. Even if there had been, sentencing guidelines indicated that the relatively small amount of $5,100 was below the level that attracts imprisonment, he said.
According to informal records kept by Caymanian Compass reporters, seven people were originally charged in connection with the punch and play cards scam. At least one young man pleaded guilty in Summary Court and has been dealt with. Others remain on bail while their matters are pending.