A student of the School of Hospitality program at the University College of the Cayman Islands received a suspended sentence on Thursday after pleading guilty to stealing from four guests at the hotel where he was gaining experience as an intern.
Joseph Maitland, 19, entered his guilty plea in July. Sentencing was postponed until this week for a social inquiry report.
Senior Crown counsel Tanya Lobban said the offense occurred at the Caribbean Club on May 29, about a week before Maitland would have graduated from the hospitality program.
Guests at the Caribbean Club returned to their rooms, which could only be accessed with a digital key, to find money missing. One man found that between US$700 and US$800 was missing from a closet. Another man found that US$180 was missing from his wallet, which he had left in a backpack. Two women reported US$300 missing from each of their handbags, which had been on the floor of their bedrooms. The total missing cash was US$1,580.
The matter was reported to management and an investigation showed there was no forced entry. Inquiries were made among staff who had been issued digital keys.
Maitland’s supervisor found out that he had left work early. It was also learned that Maitland was not scheduled to be in that apartment that day for any work-related reason.
The intern had a digital key because his duties included taking luggage to guests’ rooms.
When police searched Maitland’s room at his home, they found US$250. In an interview with police, Maitland initially denied taking the money, saying he was holding it for a friend. The friend was contacted and told officers she had not given him any money to hold.
Meanwhile, police took fingerprints and shoe prints from the apartment.
In a second interview a week later, Maitland admitted going through the rooms and stealing the cash. He said he wrapped most of the money in tissue and hid it in the bush near Abacus Restaurant; when he went back for it, it was gone.
On Monday this week, Ms. Lobban set out details of the charge, defense attorney Laurence Aiolfi spoke in mitigation and Magistrate Valdis Foldats adjourned the matter to decide whether the offense should be punished by immediate imprisonment.
Program’s reputation said to be tarnished
Ms. Lobban said the theft had tarnished the hospitality program. Companies would be reluctant to take on young people from the program, which was designed to introduce them to work in the hospitality industry.
In his remarks on Thursday, the judge cited a recent employee theft case that had been appealed to the Grand Court. In that case, Justice Malcolm Swift allowed the appeal against an immediate jail sentence for theft of CI$946, saying the amount was small. “I am bound by Justice Swift’s ruling,” the magistrate said.
But, he noted, the Crown had said there were other factors to consider, including harm to the reputation of the hotel and Cayman’s tourism industry. The court heard that the Caribbean Club had severed its relationship with the intern program, thereby affecting placement for future students.
As a result of this offending, Maitland has been suspended from UCCI for one year. He will not be allowed to return to the program. He was emotionally distressed by his action and the impact it had on his family, to the point that he was admitted to hospital at one stage, Mr. Aiolfi said.
The magistrate noted that the court had to send a message that theft in the tourism industry will likely result in imprisonment.
The magistrate imposed a four month sentence, reduced from six months for the guilty plea discount, and suspended it for two years.
He gave Maitland a year to pay back the stolen money to the Caribbean Club, which had already reimbursed the guests.