Joint account transfers raised ‘red flags,’ court hears

Court hears Michelle Bouchard transferred money to her personal account

The personal banker of an elderly customer told jurors “red flags” were raised when Michelle Bouchard transferred large amounts of money out of the joint account she held with the man from whom she is accused of stealing more than $2 million.

Michelle Bouchard
Michelle Bouchard

Former Butterfield Bank employee Judith Holland gave evidence on Friday and Monday in the trial of Bouchard, who is accused of stealing money from James Bruce Handford between May 2010 and October 2012.

Ms. Holland said she took over responsibility for Mr. Handford’s accounts in July 2011 and became concerned about account activities in 2012.

When she first met him, he had a CI account and two U.S. accounts in his own name. She saw him almost every day and they had a good professional relationship, she said. Mr. Handford was 83 at the time.

Ms. Holland became aware of a joint account he had with Bouchard and managed it also.

The jury had already heard that the joint CI account was opened on May 25, 2010, when Mr. Handford deposited CI$164,000. The prosecution and defense have agreed that Mr. Handford thereafter deposited CI$1,153,482 into the joint account and by Oct. 15, 2012, it was overdrawn.

The jury also heard from Chris Duggan, former manager of Butterfield’s private banking section. He pointed out that the joint account did not mean James Handford and Michelle Bouchard; it meant James Handford or Michelle Bouchard.

Ms. Holland explained further that the joint account belonged to both individuals equally and either one could act or sign instructions. The account could also be closed by either party.

She said Mr. Handford came to see her on Feb. 13, 2012. He provided a handwritten note asking that the CI joint account be closed because it was not needed any more. She acted on his instructions and closed the account.

A week later, Mr. Handford and Bouchard came to see her and ask that the account be reopened. Ms. Holland said Bouchard did most of the talking, saying the account had been closed in error and she needed it to pay Mr. Handford’s bills.

Ms. Holland said she asked Mr. Handford what he wanted to do. She said she could sense some awkwardness, “but he insisted it be reopened.”

In April 2012, a U.S. savings account was opened in the name of James Handford and Michelle Bouchard, with Mr. Handford depositing US$700,000.

Mr. Handford left for his yearly trip to his native Australia early the following month.

On May 28, Bouchard transferred US$50,000 from the joint account to her personal U.S. account at the bank. Between May 28 and June 28, she transferred a total of US$550,000 to her personal accounts (U.S. and Canadian), the court heard.

Meanwhile, on May 30, 2012, Bouchard carried out five ATM transactions of $5,000 each from the CI joint account, transferring the money to her personal CI account. On June 1, she used an ATM to make three transfers of $8,000 from the joint account to her personal CI account.

Ms. Holland said she got “red flags from the system” when this type of activity occurs. She said she called Bouchard about it and explained that she could do the transfers for her. Bouchard told her she couldn’t get to the bank, so she was doing the transfers that way. Bouchard said she would cancel an eye doctor appointment so she could do her banking. Ms. Holland said there was no need to cancel the appointment; she just needed to know (why the ATM transfers had occurred).

In addition, in 10 transactions between April 19 and July 3, 2012, Bouchard transferred CI$575,000 from the CI joint account to her personal account.

Ms. Holland said she contacted Mr. Handford’s daughter, Susan van Dijk, in Australia. Mrs. van Dijk said she was coming to Cayman and they spoke in person on Sept. 26, 2012.

Ms. Holland then suggested to Mr. Handford that his daughter be added to his accounts.

Asked what caused her to suggest that, Ms. Holland said she had seen a slight deterioration in Mr. Handford’s health. “When a client gets a little bit older, it’s commonplace for me to consider his health and his best interests and I felt at that stage it would be a welcome decision to add one of his family onto the accounts. It was Mr. Handford’s suggestion that the best person would be his daughter.”

On Oct. 12, 2012, Mr. Handford instructed Ms. Holland to remove Bouchard from his joint accounts and add his daughter.

Bouchard is accused of 15 counts of theft for amounts totalling CI$1.59 million and US$805,806.25 between 2010 and 2012, as well as three counts of transferring criminal property, six counts of attempting to transfer criminal property, one of forgery and one of obtaining property by deception.

The case continues.