The promise of permanent residence in exchange for money was a “cynical exploitation of vulnerable victims,” Justice Charles Quin declared on Tuesday when he sentenced two women to prison for obtaining property by deception.
The women were involved 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 sentenced to four-and-a-half years. She had pleaded not guilty to eight charges of obtaining property by deception. After a judge-alone trial, Justice Quin had found her guilty on six charges, involving a total of $17,500.
Judith Francia Douglas, 51, was sentenced to two-and-a-half years. She pleaded guilty in June 2015 to nine counts of obtaining property by deception, involving a total of $20,500.
Crown counsel Toyin Salako had asked that Douglas be sentenced after Hamilton’s trial.
A third woman, Kathleen Rosetta Davis, fled Cayman and is believed to be in Jamaica.
The women’s offenses occurred in 2009-2010. During Hamilton’s trial, various witnesses said they had been told that permanent residence was being made available to longtime residents, but there was a fee of $2,500 “because the Cayman Islands government had a big deficit and needed to collect funds.”
The program was supposedly organized through the office of then-Premier McKeeva Bush. But that office had confirmed that it did not authorize anyone to collect funds on behalf of the Immigration Department and there was never any initiative being offered for permanent residence for $2,500.
Justice Quin emphasized in his sentencing remarks that neither woman was employed by the Immigration Department nor by the Office of the Premier; neither was authorized to accept applications or money on behalf of government; neither woman was authorized to issue receipts on behalf of government.
The defendants targeted people of relatively low income, the judge noted. The opportunity to obtain permanent residence was particularly attractive to people on work permits and subject to the rollover policy because it would have provided security. Many of the victims were domestic workers or caregivers for elderly people. The sum of $2,500 was two or three months’ salary for some, he pointed out.
Attorney Margeta Facey-Clarke had told the court that Hamilton was only doing favors for Douglas and Harris and was merely helping family members and friends. But Justice Quin said Hamilton had never explained why immigration officers found so much paperwork when she was arrested – papers in her bedside table, her handbag and her car. She used her car to conduct business and collect money, he said.
Ms. Facey-Clarke also described Hamilton as a victim who was innocently drawn into the scheme, but Justice Quin said Hamilton had continued to take money from other people after asking for her own money back.
Attorney Guy Dilliway-Parry had asked that Douglas be given full credit for her guilty pleas, since she had entered them shortly after he came into the matter. She had saved the court time and the expense of a long trial, he pointed out, and 22 witnesses had been spared the anxiety of coming to court.
Mr. Dilliway-Parry said the deception started as a small scheme that spiraled out of control as numerous third parties approached the defendants after hearing about the purported program.
Douglas was ashamed of what she had done, her attorney said. She was the only one who accepted full responsibility for her actions. Her neighbors had written a reference for her, calling her an outstanding citizen.
Justice Quin noted that only one similar local case had been brought to his attention. In that matter, the defendant was sentenced to six years. In his view, the starting point should be four years, with a range of 18 months to seven years.
He said the women’s offenses had attacked the integrity of the immigration regime and had tarnished the reputation of the Cayman Islands. The court had to deter others who might be tempted to try a similar scheme, he indicated.
For Hamilton, the only mitigation was that she had no previous convictions, he said. He imposed a term of four years and six months for each offense and ordered that they run concurrently.
For Douglas, he accepted her previous good character, her sincere remorse and her apology for wasting court time. For each offense he imposed a term of two-and-a-half years and ordered that they be served concurrently.
Justice Quin cited the legal principle that it would be wrong to order compensation if the defendants do not have means to pay.
He directed that they be given credit for time in custody.
After court adjourned, Ms. Facey-Clarke confirmed that she is filing an appeal against both convictions and sentence.