Derrick Thomas says pending contract would have enabled him to pay money back
Derrick Anthony Thomas was sentenced last week to four and a half years imprisonment for thefts from clients of his one-man business and obtaining services by deception – paying for advertising of the business with cheques that never cleared.
The thefts occurred between June 2009 and January 2010 and totalled $99,600. In one case, Thomas received partial payment of $11,330 for a job and then told the customer he forgot to make provision for customs duty on equipment he had ordered for the job. The customer gave him another $2,000, but none of the money was ever used to purchase equipment and the work was not done.
Justice Charles Quin called Thomas a consummate conman who showed callous disregard for his victims: “He made repeated false representations, knowing that the jobs would never be completed,” the judge said.
“These types of offences have the potential to affect public confidence in using small businesses and have a prejudicial effect on the reputation of the Cayman Islands,” he pointed out.
The judge explained in his sentencing remarks that the offences occurred a year after Thomas started a company called Geocomfort Grand Cayman. Thomas’ company offered geothermal air conditioning units imported from the manufacturer, Enertech Companies in the US.
The president of that company visited Cayman, gave Thomas permission to use the Geothermal name and then came back to provide training for independent cooling contractors.
Eventually some of Thomas’ dissatisfied customers contacted Enertech and that company ended up having to deal with them.
Justice Quin noted that customers lost not only the money they had handed over to Thomas but then they had to pay other companies to do the job they had hired Thomas to do.
After pleading not guilty and having his Grand Court trial adjourned at least three times, Thomas did plead guilty in December 2012 and a sentencing hearing was set for February and then again for March. Each time, the judge’s decision was adjourned because Thomas was scheduled for a surgical procedure.
On 16 April, defence attorney John Furniss told the court that his client never had the surgery because, on the morning it was scheduled, Thomas was arrested on a civil warrant.
Now Thomas had another date set for the surgery. In addition, Mr. Furniss told the court his latest instructions: that Thomas was to have had a meeting that morning to sign a contract which, on the face of it, would have enabled him to pay off everybody.
Part of the problem until now had been that there was no reasonable expectation of paying people back, the attorney noted. Now, if the contract came to fruition, it would enable all victims to be recompensed and, if the court granted an adjournment for this purpose, Thomas could have his surgery.
Crown Counsel Michael Snape was asked his view and he replied, “One could take a slightly cynical view of what has been put before the court.” He noted that Thomas had not brought any paperwork to support his claim of having a contract.
Justice Quin said he was unsympathetic to the request for another adjournment. He said Thomas couldn’t be the only prisoner who needed an operation; the prison staff and hospital would have to accommodate his appointment.
The judge said he found few mitigating factors. Information provided by Mr. Furniss and a social inquiry report indicated that Thomas obtained a diploma in restaurant management, then worked as a chef for many years. He entered the construction field with many bright ideas, but lacked effective business management skills.
Mr. Furniss said Thomas intended to run a proper business but started out by underbidding the competition and got in over his head. He said Thomas now accepted full responsibility.
But the judge pointed out that Thomas had told his probation officer that his hope to reimburse the complainant lay in the success of another business proposal. He expressed concern that Thomas “continues to deny the fact that it was his incapability to manage a business on his own that resulted in [its] demise and yet he wants to pursue such a route again.”
He also referred to Thomas’ convictions in 1998 and 1999 for obtaining property by deception and in 2004 for obtaining a passport by false representation.
In light of those previous convictions and the facts of this case, Justice Quin said the appropriate starting point was five years for the thefts, but he would give a 20 per cent discount for the guilty pleas and have the sentences run concurrently.
Obtaining service by deception was an entirely different offence, and he made that term of six months run consecutively.