CarePay trial: Testimony reveals little scrutiny for US$13M contract

The former chairman of the Cayman Islands National Insurance Company told a Grand Court jury Friday that he “scanned over” a copy of the US$13-million contract for the CarePay patient swipe-card system less than 24 hours prior to signing it in December 2010. 

CINICO’s chief executive testified earlier in the week that he had come on the job just before the CarePay contract was signed and had not read the deal before putting pen to paper on obligations that were to cost the public hospital system more than US$2 million per year for the next five years. 

Prosecutors in the trial of former Health Services Authority Board Chairman Canover Watson have suggested that the apparent lack of scrutiny over the CarePay contract was due to deliberate efforts by Watson to mislead and hide the details from those who had responsibility for it. 

Watson and his business partner Jeffrey Webb have been accused of personally benefitting from proceeds of the CarePay contract, which the Crown alleges Watson directed to a company of his choosing as health authority board chairman. Watson and his former personal assistant Miriam Rodriguez are also charged with transferring criminal property, namely the proceeds of the CarePay contract, to Webb and others. 

Both Watson and Rodriguez have pleaded not guilty to all charges.  

Webb, who is also charged in the case, is facing sentencing in a separate criminal matter in the U.S. next year and is not a defendant in the Cayman trial. 

Watson’s lawyers have suggested that the lack of independent review of the CarePay contract was due to negligence on the part of government workers who were now seeking ways to blame Watson for their own failures. 

Former CINICO Chairman Scott A. Cummings testified Friday that he was informed by Watson during a Dec. 15, 2010 CINICO board meeting regarding the upcoming implementation of the CarePay system that the government insurer did not need to review the agreement. 

“Mr. Watson was asked whether CINICO legal counsel needed to review the contract,” Mr. Cummings said. “We were informed that CINICO’s legal counsel didn’t need to review it, that had already been done.” 

Mr. Cummings further testified that Watson had promised to send him a copy of the US$13 million, five-year CarePay agreement that same day, Dec. 15, 2010. However, email records reviewed during the trial showed that Mr. Cummings, CINICO Chief Executive Lonny Tibbetts and former Health Services Authority Medical Director Dr. Greg Hoeksema did not receive the contract until Dec. 20, the day before it was due to be signed. 

Watson’s attorney, Trevor Burke, QC, suggested during his cross examination of Mr. Cummings that Watson had not told the CINICO board anything about the contract being reviewed by attorneys. Mr. Burke pointed out that minutes of the Dec. 15, 2010 board meeting do not make reference to any such statements by Watson. 

“As a lawyer [referring to Mr. Cummings, who is a licensed litigator in the U.S.], wouldn’t you wish to have a reassurance that CINICO does not need legal advice here?” Mr. Burke asked. 

“At the time, it did not seem like a big deal,” Mr. Cummings answered. “We were assured we did not need to review it, that someone else would review it. If we could go back in time, I wish I could have a transcript [of Watson’s] whole presentation [to the CINICO board on Dec. 15, 2010].” 

Lawyering up 

The final contract for the CarePay patient swipe-card system between the HSA, CINICO, the Jamaica-St. Lucia company that owns the swipe card system and its local partner AIS Cayman Ltd. was never reviewed by government lawyers in the solicitor general’s office, jurors heard earlier in the case. 

Instead, the contract was perused by then-HSA board member and Maples law firm partner Wanda Ebanks, who testified that she was asked by Watson to look at the agreement “as a member of the board” to assist her fellow board members. 

Ms. Ebanks, under prompting by Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Patrick Moran, testified that she was surprised to get the contract “at the last minute,” but denied suggestions by defense attorney Mr. Burke that she received the contract because she was Watson’s “go-to lawyer.” 

Mr. Moran said the proposed contract between AIS Cayman Ltd. and the health services agencies appeared to “bind the hands” of the public hospital system, requiring it to spend more than US$13 million over five years and requiring another five-year renewal unless either party issued a termination notice a year prior to the contract’s end. 

Ms. Ebanks testified that she had written a note during her examination of the AIS contract that indicated “it’s even worse than Cerner” – the U.S.-based firm that previously handled HSA’s patient information services. 

Mr. Burke objected, stating that Cerner’s previous contract could not be compared to AIS because the AIS deal provided a “get out” clause for both parties where Cerner’s did not. 

Trial breaks for holidays 

Friday was the last day of testimony in Watson and Rodriguez’s criminal trial for the remainder of calendar year 2015. 

The jury of six women and one man hearing the case is scheduled to return on Jan. 4, when the prosecution’s case will resume. The defense is then expected to begin its case. 

Jurors are expected to begin deliberations by the end of January.