BREAKING: Watson sentenced to 7 years

A jury found Canover Watson guilty on five of six counts.

Millionaire Caymanian businessman Canover Watson was sentenced to seven years in prison Friday, one day after he was found guilty of five out of six criminal charges against him in connection with the CarePay hospital contract investigation.

The sentence was handed down by Grand Court Justice Michael Mettyear Friday following submissions by Crown prosecutors and Watson’s senior defense counsel, Trevor Burke, QC.

Justice Mettyear spoke to Watson directly in pronouncing his sentence: “The evidence against you was overwhelming. you conspired with Jeff Webb to steal money from the Cayman Islands government … from the Health Services Authority and CINICO. You were able to succeed because of your position of power and trust as chairman of the HSA.

“You behaved shamelessly … falsifying presentations, letters, emails, contracts and signatures … you fooled a number of senior civil servants and possibly a minister. You tried to fool the jury, although you failed.

“You had been an inspiration to many young Caymanians. What on Earth must they think now?”

“Canover Watson’s fall from grace is now complete,” Mr. Burke told Justice Mettyear, speaking in sentencing mitigation for his client. “He is ruined.”

Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Patrick Moran said the Crown would, in due course, recommend forfeiture of at least some of Watson’s assets in attempts to recollect the funds the former Health Services Authority board chairman is accused of taking from the public purse. Mr. Moran said the Crown would also recommend to the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority that Watson no longer be allowed to register companies in the islands.

During the criminal trial, which lasted two months, Watson was accused of conspiring with his friend and business partner Jeffrey Webb in a scheme to skim hundreds of thousands of dollars in profits from the CarePay patient swipe-card contract. It was a scheme prosecutors accused Watson of directing as HSA chairman.

Conspiracy to defraud, for which Watson was convicted on two counts, typically carried a 5-8 year prison sentence in the U.K., but Mr. Moran pushed for a longer sentence Friday, given what he called Watson’s “clear attempts” to hide and destroy evidence.

“I suspect that my lord will have little difficulty in finding this offense has a wider impact as a result of the victims of this offense being public authorities with public funds,” Mr. Moran said.

Mr. Burke said that the effect of any criminal sentence with regard to Watson’s convictions in this case would ruin his life and asked that be considered.

“It will leave him penniless,” Mr. Burke said. “His prospects of employment once he’s released from custody … [it will be] very difficult.”

Mr. Burke suggested, and Watson confirmed while sitting in the court dock, that he would lose his certification as a professional accountant as result of the conviction. He also noted Watson had never been convicted of an offense in Cayman before and that he performed “numerous good works” for the public prior to his chairmanship of the HSA board.

Judge Mettyear asked, with regard to the CarePay scheme, if the defense believed there was “a leader and a follower.”

“Certainly, Webb was the one with the checkbook,” the judge noted.

“That’s a perfectly clear inference,” Mr. Burke said.

Webb, 51, is currently facing sentencing in the U.S. following his November guilty plea to racketeering and bribery in the ongoing FIFA corruption investigation. He was unable to attend the trial proceedings in Cayman at this time, but Mr. Moran noted during the trial that Webb’s role in the CarePay scheme may be a matter for “another jury, on another day.”