Cayman Islands prosecutors described Canover Watson last week as an unscrupulous businessman, a backroom wheeler-dealer who used his position on a high-profile public agency to enrich himself, his business partner Jeffrey Webb, and perhaps others.
Defense attorneys described Watson as a successful entrepreneur dedicated to public service, helping out where and when he could and giving countless hours of his free time to help the Health Services Authority pull itself out of massive accumulating debts.
Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Patrick Moran said Watson helped himself and Webb to hundreds of thousands of dollars by “bumping up” the costs of the CarePay public hospital swipe-card contract and “doctoring” public records to make government officials believe a local company he and Webb controlled were owed the money. Mr. Moran said Watson, the former chairman of the Health Services Authority board, would have received hundreds of thousands, if not millions more, if that card system had been expanded to private sector insurers and healthcare providers. “However, they were going to do it, that was the plan,” Mr. Moran said.
Watson’s attorney, Trevor Burke, QC, said that all of his client’s business ventures mentioned during the course of the two-month trial were legitimate endeavors. Mr. Burke said, whatever the jury might believe about Watson’s business partner, Webb was not on trial in this case and was not able to provide testimony to prove or disprove prosecution theories.
Mr. Burke said Watson had provided detailed explanations via an account summary for all of the money he had received from Webb and suggested that the Crown could not prove any of it came directly from the CarePay contract sums. “If you think [Watson’s] explanation is supported by the documents … then the prosecution [has] failed in their primary allegation that Mr. Watson benefitted personally,” Mr. Burke said. “That is the allegation he takes the greatest exception to, that he sold you out.
“Did this man sell you out for a few hundred thousand dollars? It really comes down to that.”
Mr. Moran repeatedly accused Watson during the Crown’s closing speech Thursday of lying to deceive his business partners, lying to deceive the police, lying to deceive the government and lying to deceive the jury.
The senior prosecutor said investigators uncovered information from Watson’s own computer memory “flash” drives (also called jump drives or memory sticks) that showed him accounting for certain profits and expected future earnings from the CarePay contract, held by AIS (Advanced Integrated Systems) Cayman Ltd.
Even if all those sums did not come in as expected, Mr. Moran said the computer records showed the defendant’s state of mind at the time and would prove to be “his undoing.” Mr. Watson testified earlier that those flash drive records were merely fantasy scenarios and amount to an accountant’s “doodling” with financial data on a spreadsheet.
“I suggest that explanation is so fanciful that it is almost insulting,” Mr. Moran said.
Watson did not deny during trial proceedings that his business partner and close friend, Webb, used “front men” to set up AIS Cayman as the local arm of a Jamaican company which owned the CarePay system software. Both of those individuals, Eldon Rankin and Joscelyn Morgan, had long-time close ties to Webb, he agreed.
However, that was not the story he told to police in 2014 when he was interviewed, Mr. Moran said. At that time, he alleged Watson lied, stating that Webb acted as a “consultant” of AIS director Mr. Morgan.
Watson said Webb had used the front men to cover up his significant earnings from the AIS/CarePay contract because Webb was going through a divorce in 2011 and wanted to hide the proceeds from this ex-wife.
“I suggest that is a desperate attempt by Mr. Watson to use a small piece of truth as the basis for a big lie,” Mr. Moran said. “Mr. Webb’s involvement was hidden … because of his connection to Mr. Watson and The W Group [a Cayman Islands company the two men jointly owned].”
The W Group, Mr. Moran said, was planned to be the vehicle where 30 percent of the profits from the CarePay contract were placed. Watson testified that the company, which was formed and registered, had never actually done any business and never opened a bank account. Mr. Moran suggested this was simply because the expected profits from CarePay never materialized due to difficulties implementing certain aspects of the system which delayed or even ultimately scuttled payments.
Finally, Mr. Moran alleged that Mr. Watson made up an unbelievable story about how a bogus contract for the CarePay system expansion to private sector healthcare providers was sent to government officials, blaming his secretary for getting things mixed up. There never was any contract for the proposed expansion of the CarePay system, although government did budget about US$2.4 million for the project.
Some of that US$2.4 million ended up paying off a loan for Webb’s home in suburban Atlanta and some paid for a home entertainment system at Watson’s house, located down the street from Webb’s, prosecutors alleged.
At the end of his address Mr. Moran spoke directly to the jury: “Ask yourself, what is so wrong with the truth? Because the truth sometimes is ugly, sometimes shameful. The truth may be that Canover Watson is guilty, but that’s for you to decide.”
Mr. Burke inferred during his closing speech Friday that trial jurors were being asked to do a lot of “guess work” simply because “so many of the main players here just don’t want to play.”
The lead defense counsel said Webb, who is charged as a conspirator in the CarePay scheme, was currently detained on bail in the U.S. in connection with an unrelated criminal investigation. All the jurors really know about Webb is from emails he sent to Watson, Mr. Burke said.
Webb’s Jamaican business partner, Douglas Halsall, who Watson worked very closely with during the life of the CarePay project, was also not called as a witness in the trial. “[The Crown] don’t know whether to kiss him or arrest him. Is he a hero or a villain?”
Although jurors requested that he testify, former Health Minister Mark Scotland, who Mr. Burke described as the CarePay system’s biggest supporter and who was alleged to have directed many of Watson’s activities in connection with the project, was never called. “His ears must be burning, but he’s not here,” Mr. Burke said of Mr. Scotland.
Jurors will not be allowed to speculate or draw inferences as to why certain witnesses did not appear. Trial Judge Michael Mettyear said last week that they must pronounce a verdict only on the evidence they were given during trial proceedings.
Mr. Burke suggested the evidence presented showed clearly that Watson’s stewardship on the HSA board led to a major turnaround in hospital finances and that the implementation of the CarePay system, had it been successful, would have served to significantly reduce the public healthcare system’s problem with bad debts. The biggest question in the case, from the defense’s perspective, was whether jurors actually believed that Mr. Halsall’s company, Advanced Integrated Systems of Jamaica, was the only company in the world that offered a swipe-card technology solution that was custom-fit for the Cayman Islands healthcare system.
Mr. Burke suggested that the Crown had presented no evidence to challenge defense claims that this was indeed the case. “Cayman was completely sold on Mr. Halsall’s solution,” Mr. Burke said. “Mr. Watson knew it to be the case.”
The senior defense counsel said this created problems with prosecution claims that there was a “conspiracy” to defraud the government, specifically due to the fact that – other than Webb – the alleged conspirators are never named.
The defense also suggested that the CarePay contract should have been handled as a single source bid, but alleged that local politics got in the way, delaying the process and adding more work onto an already overburdened Watson. Mr. Burke suggested former HSA information technology chief Dale Sanders conspired to scuttle the AIS/CarePay project, because he was “in bed” with an American company which had offered a competing bid. The prosecution suggested that Mr. Sanders was eventually run off the project because he began to suspect then-HSA Chairman Watson’s involvement was improper or even illegal.
Mr. Burke finally stated that jurors must believe Watson actually profited from the CarePay scheme in some way, rather than – as the defense has suggested – simply being paid monies he was owed by Webb over a period of months.
“If they cannot put a dollar in his pocket … Mr. Watson is not at risk of conviction on any count of this indictment,” Mr. Burke said. Watson has maintained throughout the trial that he personally never had an interest in the operations of AIS Cayman Ltd.
Justice Mettyear will fully instruct jurors as to the law and the evidence in the trial starting Tuesday when he begins his summing up of the case. The jury of six women and one man is expected to begin deliberations late next week.