‘Perennial fraudster’ loses appeal

Former Rotary Club president Michael Sean Levitt, whom the Court of Appeal described as “a perennial fraudster,” lost his appeal to overturn his sentence of seven-and-a half years for the theft of US$846,260 from law firm Solomon Harris. 

The Cayman Islands Court of Appeal said the case involved “substantial sums of money and a severe breach of trust by a perennial fraudster.” 

Attorney Richard Barton argued that the Grand Court’s Justice Malcolm Swift did not give Levitt, 56, sufficient credit for his guilty plea last September or for his charitable work in the community before joining Solomon Harris as financial controller. 

The court heard arguments on April 4 and released its reasons for judgment on May 9, noting that the maximum sentence for theft and obtaining a money transfer by deception is 10 years. The maximum for possessing criminal property is 14 years.  

Levitt’s offending involved approximately 80 transactions between December 2009 and December 2012. 

The appeal court pointed to Levitt’s previous convictions for fraud: In 1998, he was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment in South Africa; in 2002, he was fined $20,000, in addition to time served of 14 months, for an offense of fraud in Canada. 

“It seems to us plain that these previous offenses were something which would have been relevant for Solomon Harris to know before employing the appellant, and something that would have been relevant for the immigration authorities to know before admitting the appellant to the Cayman Islands,” the appeal court said. “In our view, the judge was entitled to take this into account as an aggravating feature in a pattern of criminality involving deceit. The failure to disclose is separate from the offenses themselves.” 

Another aspect of the case that Mr. Barton complained of was Justice Swift’s attitude toward Levitt’s position in the Rotary Club. 

The judge had been told that Levitt arrived in Cayman after Hurricane Ivan in 2004 with the idea of starting with a clean slate. He worked at a local hotel and then two other businesses, volunteering with several charitable organizations. He was invited to join a Rotary Club, served as president and was voted Rotarian of the Year. A fellow Rotarian encouraged him to apply for the position at Solomon Harris after they had worked together on a Rotary committee. 

Mr. Barton said Levitt had undertaken a substantial amount of charitable work before starting with Solomon Harris, and occupied his position there for 14 months before his first offense. Therefore, Justice Swift had no basis on which he could conclude that Levitt had used his position within Rotary to obtain employment; in fact, his connection with Rotary should have been a mitigating factor, Mr. Barton urged. 

The appeal court said this reasoning did not take into account all that the judge had said. “He said that he was not convinced that the appellant’s involvement in Rotary was ‘entirely’ philanthropic and that the appellant had been guilty of ‘some degree’ of hypocrisy. The emphasized words indicate that the judge in part accepted that the appellant had acted genuinely in relation to Rotary. 

“Moreover, there was material in the victim impact statement which indicated that it was the appellant’s energy, drive and hard work on Rotary business that had caused him to be considered as a possible candidate for employment by Solomon Harris. It was a legitimate inference for the judge to draw that the appellant had taken advantage of his position within Rotary to that effect; and the fact that he did not commit any offense immediately after starting his employment with the firm does not demonstrate that the inference is wrong.” 

Levitt’s attorney in Grand Court spoke of his client’s motives for the thefts. Levitt told him he saw people around him enjoying a high standard of living and felt he had to conform. Levitt wrote in a prepared statement, “I got caught up in the Cayman dream.” 

Justice Swift arrived at his sentence by using a starting point of eight years, adding two years for all the aggravating features and giving a 25 percent discount for the guilty plea. The appeal court said 25 percent was correct because Levitt did not enter his plea at the first reasonable opportunity. He had not agreed with the crown as to the exact amount of the theft, but could have pleaded guilty on the basis of figures he himself proposed. 

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