Cheryl Womack claims she planned to visit Cayman to discuss waste-to-energy plans
An American businesswoman charged with tax fraud has been told she cannot travel to the Cayman Islands to discuss a potential “waste to energy” business deal with politicians in the territory.
Cheryl Womack, indicted earlier this month for allegedly using undisclosed Cayman bank accounts to dodge taxes, had applied to a U.S. federal judge for the return of her passport, claiming she planned to make a business trip to Grand Cayman and attend a New Year’s party with political figures.
A court document filed on behalf of Ms Womack claims she is “spearheading” a proposed waste-to-energy partnership with government in the Cayman Islands.
The document indicates the project is at an advanced stage and her presence is needed at a series of meetings, brunches and site visits ahead of a hoped-for construction start date of March, 2014.
Health Minister Osbourne Bodden, whose ministry has responsibility for the landfill, said Ms Womack’s claims were news to him.
He said the Cayman Islands government plans to put out a request for proposals on waste management in 2014 with the hope of a successful bidder being in place by summer.
“We have no agreements or commitments to anyone in advance of this process being completed openly and transparently, and we have no meetings or dinners for New Year’s with anyone but our families,” he told the Caymanian Compass.
U.S. Chief Magistrate Judge Robert Larsen denied any change to Ms Womack’s bail conditions, which currently exclude foreign travel.
“The temptation to stay in the Cayman Islands would be too great and the government’s ability to proceed with this prosecution would be seriously jeopardized,” Judge Larsen said in his ruling last week.
Ms Womack, a high-profile Kansas businesswoman who sold her trucking insurance company for US$100 million in 2002, has an estimated $5 million in assets, as well as a home in the Cayman Islands, where she is a permanent resident, according to the court filing.
She denies the tax charges and her lawyers have argued that it is “grossly unfair” for her to be denied the right to travel until her trial.
Ms Womack told the Compass that she plans to appeal the ruling, which prevents her from coming to Cayman.
She declined to comment in detail, but said she had been working with government over the past year on the waste project and wanted to come to Cayman “to rekindle relationships and establish new ones for the upcoming RFP opportunities.”
A press release issued by Cayman Enterprise City in February 2013 identifies Ms Womack as the CEO of WAT Ltd., within Cayman’s special economic zone, and links to a website about a waste to energy company.
Government has previously indicated an interest in a waste-to-energy project as a solution to the problematic solid waste management issue, but so far no business case has been published and no official tendering process begun.
Previously a waste management facility was planned at Midland Acres, near Bodden Town, but the Progressive government has indicated it has no interest in proceeding with that project.
In the wake of the massive fire that engulfed the George Town landfill site in late December, government officials told the Compass that a request for proposals seeking bids that include recycling and waste-to-energy proposals would be released in the coming months.
Minister Bodden said that was still the plan, and he was baffled by Ms Womack’s claims in court, which suggest she is in advanced talks with business leaders and politicians.
The court documents filed by Ms Womack’s attorneys suggest a series of meetings had been scheduled for January with the hope of construction starting as early as March.
The motion filed with the U.S. District Court in Kansas City last week by Womack’s attorney Michael Levine indicates that she was scheduled to be in Grand Cayman from Dec. 27 until Jan. 26 “for meetings with political and business contacts regarding a waste-to energy project that Ms Womack is spearheading there.”
It describes the project as a partnership between government and Ms Womack to provide Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman with a “viable solution to broaden their solid waste management programs.”
It adds, “The proposal is to provide an alternative to landfill disposal, reduce potential adverse environmental impacts associated with landfill operations, and produce a valuable energy source.”
It briefly describes how the technology works and suggests it is the solution to Cayman’s “decades-long accumulation of trash problem.”
The documents suggest Ms Womack’s presence in Cayman for key meetings with government officials is critical to the success of the project.
“Ms Womack is scheduled to attend a New Year’s Eve gathering with some of the critical Cayman Islands political figures who are newly elected in government and have only recently commenced their terms. She also has a standing brunch with another group of these newly appointed officials, all surrounding the waste-to-energy project described above.
“The intention is to have many of the meetings, as well as site locations for the new trash site, during the month of January.
“A substantial round of meetings is scheduled with government employees whom Ms Womack has previously met, as well as meetings with the local electricity company to discuss the details of selling by-product of energy that is produced and how to deliver that in the most expedient fashion,” the filing adds.
Ms Womack offered to put up her $5.5 million house and a life insurance policy worth around $794,000 as collateral so that she could be allowed to travel to Cayman and later to India. The document also highlights her family ties in Kansas and concludes, “This is simply not a defendant who poses any risk of flight, whether she is in Kansas or on the moon.”
Judge Larsen found that the consequences of staying in the Caribbean and losing a home and insurance policy are not worse than the prospect of paying $7 million to $10 million in restitution and spending up to 10 years in prison in the United States. He said Womack could attend business and political meetings via teleconference.