CarePay trial – False contract supported US$1.8M payments

An admittedly bogus 31-page contract was used to support US$1.8 million in payments made during 2011-2012 for the expansion of the public hospital’s CarePay patient swipe-card system to private sector healthcare providers, jurors in the criminal trial of local businessman Canover Watson heard Friday.

Although the money for that proposed expansion was spent, the CarePay system was never expanded to private sector providers. Allegations have been made during the course of the trial that some of the money earmarked for the system expansion went to pay for things like a house down payment for Watson’s business partner, Jeffrey Webb, and an entertainment system for Watson’s own Georgia home.

On Friday, Watson testified that the false contract was inadvertently sent to then-Ministry of Health chief financial officer Carrol Cooper by Watson’s personal assistant Miriam Rodriguez, after Mr. Cooper sought evidence of a contract to support the payment of US$1.2 million.

That payment was due in August 2011 as a 50 percent up-front expense on the CarePay system expansion, Watson said.

Mr. Cooper testified last month that, although he had received payment approval, he felt there was “no way” the health ministry could make such a large payment without proof it was required. Mr. Cooper said he asked Watson for additional information to support the payment when Watson contacted him.

Watson said Friday that he emailed Mr. Cooper two documents – the CarePay contract government officials signed in December 2010 and the government tenders committee recommendation of the contract, also from December 2010.

Neither document, prosecutors said, would have served to authorize a further expansion of the CarePay card system to the private healthcare industry, although the Crown conceded an amount had been budgeted for that purpose by Cabinet during mid-2011.

The version of the contract sent from Watson to Mr. Cooper in August 2011 included language about the private sector expansion. The original contract from December 2010 did not.

Watson testified in court earlier this month that there never had been any contract for the CarePay card-system expansion, although he said former Health Minister Mark Scotland had agreed – with his Cabinet colleagues – to fund the project.

“You were fully aware there was no contract, and there never had been one,” Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Patrick Moran said Friday. “You don’t say that in your email [to Mr. Cooper in August 2011], do you?”

“No,” said Watson.

“Why not?” Grand Court Judge Michael Mettyear asked, intervening in the testimony. “Why not just say there’s no contract and there never was?”

Watson said he believed that his assistant, Ms. Rodriguez, mistakenly printed off copies of a contract proposal he had received from Jamaican businessman Douglas Halsall in December 2010. Ms. Rodriguez put the wrong documents in Watson’s email “drop box” and Watson said he simply took them out and forwarded them on.

Mr. Halsall’s company, AIS (Advanced Integrated Systems) of Jamaica, owned the technology the CarePay swipe-card system functioned on. Watson said a version of Mr. Halsall’s 2010 contract proposal, which was never agreed, was saved to his personal computer.

The problem with that explanation, Mr. Moran said, is that the agreement Mr. Halsall proposed in late 2010 was never signed. The version Watson sent to Mr. Cooper at the health ministry in August 2011 had been signed.

Watson said Ms. Rodriguez had a number of versions of the original CarePay contract in her possession and that he had asked her in July 2011 to “pull some documents” for the contract that he needed to amend. Watson suggested that Ms. Rodriguez put two separate versions of the contract together and sent them to his computer at Admiral Administration.

“She got some random pages from the random agreement and forwarded them on … with no duplicate pages?” Mr. Moran asked. “This is just making it up as we go along, isn’t it? It’s all Miriam’s fault, isn’t it?”

Mr. Moran suggested that Watson opened the Microsoft Word document that contained the original CarePay contract himself, amended it, changed the computer format, used the original CarePay contract front page to obtain the signatures, scanned it and sent it to Mr. Cooper.

“No, Mr. Moran,” Watson said, adding later that he simply wasn’t paying attention to the contract he had forwarded on. “That’s not what happened,” he said.

“What you told the jury, about being completely unaware of that change,” Mr. Moran said, “what you said about seeing [the contract] for the first time in this trial, is complete rubbish, isn’t it?

“This was you seeking to change history,” Mr. Moran said. “You wanted the national rollout [of CarePay] more than anything didn’t you?”

“I wanted to complete the project,” Watson said.

“For personal reasons,” Mr. Moran said.

“No, Mr. Moran,” Watson said. “Because it was in the best interests to complete it for the minister.”

As the Crown finished its five-day cross examination of Watson, Mr. Moran stated he did not believe Watson’s answers regarding the CarePay contract were “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

The defense reexamination of Watson’s witness testimony was due to get under way Tuesday. Closing speeches from both sides in the trial were expected later in the week.