Women remanded for immigration scam

Two women are scheduled to be sentenced on March 8 for their roles in an immigration scam that led people to hand over $2,500 each in the belief that they would be granted permanent residence.

Marcia Angella Hamilton, 46, was found guilty of six counts of obtaining property by deception after a judge-alone trial that ended in November. Judith Francia Douglas, 51, pleaded guilty last June to nine counts of obtaining property by deception.

The offenses occurred in 2009-2010. Justice Charles Quin heard mitigation from the women’s attorneys last week and then adjourned to consider his decisions. He remanded both women in custody; they had been on bail pending the completion of pre-sentence social inquiry reports.

Attorney Margeta Facey-Clarke argued that Hamilton had not personally benefitted from her actions – that she had collected money from people but had handed it over to Douglas. “Her involvement was doing favors. She was at all times trying to help her family and friends,” Ms. Facey-Clarke maintained.

In fact, Hamilton handed over money for one of her own relatives, the attorney pointed out. Later, when she had suspicions about a scam she was able to get her money back from Douglas, but she had no proof and therefore had no obligation to tell police. Other people had collected money and passed it on but they were not charged, Ms. Facey-Clarke said.

Justice Quin said these were points that could be made in the Court of Appeal, since it would be bizarre to ask him to reject evidence he had already accepted. Hamilton had been alerted that things were not right, but she continued to be involved. “That’s the criminality of it,” he said.

“You may feel your client has been treated harshly while others were not brought to court,” he acknowledged, but asked Ms. Facey-Clarke to concentrate on mitigation.

She said the delay of six years had put tremendous stress on her client; the waiting itself was like a prison sentence. Hamilton had suffered embarrassment and found it difficult to obtain employment: “She believes everyone looks at her as a thief.”

Referring to what she called an exceptional circumstance, the attorney advised that Hamilton’s young child suffers from a serious disease for which treatment is available only in the U.S. The child looks to Hamilton for mental and emotional support, Ms. Facey-Clarke told the court.

She said Hamilton was willing to make restitution of monies not returned – around $17,000 – and she asked for a non-custodial sentence.

Crown counsel Toyin Salako, who conducted the case for the prosecution against Hamilton, submitted that this defendant was partly responsible for the six year delay, since two applications for adjournment had been made by the defense.

It would be unfair to suggest that she could delay a trial and then benefit from the delay, Ms. Salako argued.

Attorney Guy Dilliway-Parry spoke for Douglas. He asked that she be given full credit for her guilty pleas and that nothing said on behalf of Hamilton be held against his client. He said Douglas was ashamed of what she had done and was painfully aware of the suffering and distress she had caused.

“It was a hopeless deception with no prospect of ever going undetected,” he said. Douglas had saved the court time and money through her pleas, he pointed out; they meant that 22 witnesses did not have to come to court.

Douglas was willing to pay compensation, he noted. The nine counts for which guilty pleas were accepted had involved just over $22,000.