Not everything is as it appears.
With the advent of social media and uninformed, uncensored blogging, incorrect information can quickly be turned into fact in the eyes of the general public.
That’s what has happened to the Pines Retirement Home.
Another news agency in the Cayman Islands misconstrued information about the home, wrote a story, posted it on their website and attracted bloggers who made anonymous comments without knowing the true facts concerning the possible misappropriation of funds and “disappearance” of the former Pines Manager Sue Nicholson.
“The article, together with the comments it attracted, created the impression that the Pines Board was engaged in a cover up operation to conceal the fact that money was missing and to protect its former manager from prosecution. It seems to be thought that we deliberately allowed the manager to leave the Island in order to help her avoid prosecution,” said Colin Shaw, vice chairman of the Pines’ Board of Directors.
“Nothing could be further from the truth. The author of the article – and the bloggers – have now done the Pines and its elderly residents a huge disservice. Their misconstruction of events has unfortunately gained widespread belief. Until the public fully understands the position – which may not occur until legal proceedings have run their course – the Pines, a not-for-profit facility that relies heavily on the generosity of the public, is likely to find it difficult to raise much needed funds for its residents.
“In fact, it was only after Mrs. Nicholson had left Grand Cayman to attend her daughter’s wedding in the UK that the possibility of her having misappropriated funds was reported to me. Staff were immediately interviewed and internal investigations begun. With considerable assistance from Mr. Theo Bullmore, a retired senior partner of one of the Island’s leading accountancy firms, relevant information was quickly assembled and potential problem areas identified.
“When the matter first came to light we were all in a state of disbelief. This lady had been the Pines’ Manager for 15 years. The board had no reason to believe her to be anything other than entirely honest and trustworthy. But when she failed to produce plausible explanations for unusual transactions and then stopped communicating with us from the UK, the members of the board had to come to terms with the fact that our trust might have been misplaced,” said Mr. Shaw.
On 23 April, a little over a week after the matter had first come to light, an emergency meeting of the Pines’ Board was convened at which Mr. Bullmore made a detailed preliminary report. On the basis of that report, Mrs. Nicholson was summarily dismissed. The board concluded that a comprehensive financial review was essential in order to ensure that all misappropriated funds were identified and to reassure major benefactors – and indeed all donors – that the Pines was doing everything it possibly could to put the situation right. At that emergency meeting, the board also decided, unanimously, to file a report as soon as practicable with the Financial Crimes Unit.
“This is fully reflected in the minutes of that meeting”, Mr. Shaw told us.
“When we felt we had enough information to provide the FCU with evidence of probable wrongdoing we spoke with them and discussed how they would like us to handle matters. It was agreed that we would file a preliminary report – which we immediately did – to be followed in due course by a comprehensive report and supporting statements”.
The necessary forensic audit of the Pines’ financials to identify all potential misappropriations during Mrs. Nicholson’s tenure as manager has been a major exercise, made possible only by the generosity of KPMG, which has provided personnel and services free of charge. When completed, the report will be turned over the Financial Crimes Unit, which has already indicated that if there is sufficient evidence to support a prosecution, they will be likely to pursue the matter.
“Many people have now put in dozens, if not hundreds, of hours free of charge in order to help the Pines, including a number of present and former senior partners of KPMG and Maples and Calder. Their help has been invaluable and their efforts are very much appreciated,” said Mr. Shaw.
Also helping is Mrs. Nicholson’s husband, who has very publicly and honourably declared that he intends to stand by his wife and make good any misappropriations. Mr. Nicholson has established a substantial fund for this purpose, which is held in escrow by Maples and Calder.
Mr. Shaw said that as a result of everyone’s efforts and Mr. Nicholson’s cooperation, he and the board are confident that the Pines will get its money back sooner rather than later.
Upon the recommendation of KPMG, the Pines is now ready to take extreme measures to prevent any reoccurrence.
“We will introduce a system whereby staff will be able to make anonymous suspicious activity reports. It’s not something we particularly like doing, but it seems to be the only way we can realistically hope to catch or deter the worst frauds, such as the misappropriation of cash”, said Mr. Shaw. “We will also put in place arrangements for KPMG to undertake up to four mini-audits a year without any advance notice. The auditors will be free to audit absolutely anything they wish whenever they wish,” he said.
Thanks to the efforts of Mr. Bullmore, Mr. John Ferrari and his staff at KPMG, Mr. Mac Imrie at Maples and Calder and the Pines Board, Mr. Shaw firmly believes that the Pines Board has done everything possible to deal with a very unpleasant situation and to avoid a reoccurrence.
“Our ultimate goal is now to restore public confidence in the Pines”, said Mr. Shaw. “With that objective in mind, I invite anyone who has made a cash or other donation in recent years and who is unsure whether it might have been misapplied to send full details of their donation to [email protected] We will confirm that it has been correctly applied or, if it has not, we will ask KPMG to advise us whether it should form part of the Pines’ claim for reimbursement”.
Mr. Shaw went on to say, “The only positive I can take out of the unfortunate article and the comments it attracted are that large numbers the public appear to care deeply about the Pines and our elderly residents, who are undoubtedly some of the most vulnerable and needy members of our society. I can only hope that the author of that article and some of the bloggers will take the trouble to make contact, take a tour of the Pines’ new facility and talk to our residents, staff and board members. I have no doubt that they will be impressed and reassured by what they see and hear. Perhaps they may even be willing to take time from their writing and blogging to donate a few hours each week to help the Home, even if they do not wish to make a donation”.