A judge ordered the jury in the trial of Sandra Catron to find her not guilty Tuesday, after he determined there was a “fatal flaw” in the charges.
She had been charged with uttering a false document, in relation to submitting completion certificates to the Cayman Islands government for an online paralegal course she was administering through her company Micro Matrix.
In November 2011, then-Premier McKeeva Bush contracted with Ms. Catron to provide paralegal training to Caymanians. Sponsorships for the paralegal course, paid to Ms. Catron, came from the Nation Building Fund.
Justice Malcolm Swift directed the jury to find Ms. Catron not guilty on all eight counts of uttering a false document after hearing submissions Monday and Tuesday.
“There’s a fatal flaw in these charges against this defendant which is in relation to whether these documents that she produced were at the time they were produced … false, and I’ve decided there is no evidence that when they were made they were actually false documents,” Justice Swift told the jury Tuesday.
In June 2012, the Office of the Premier requested that Ms. Catron provide copies of certificates of course completion so that there would be some documentation of how the money was being spent. She explained in an email exchange that the course did not end until the following month, but that the certificates were printed and she could provided certificates of completion to the government dated Aug. 1.
Later that year, the court heard, Judy Powery, who worked in the Office of the Premier, received a phone call from one of the paralegal course students, prompting further inquiry into the matter, according to the prosecution. It was discovered that several students did not complete the course, even though Ms. Catron had submitted certificates of completion for those students to the government.
The Crown accused Ms. Catron of knowingly and fraudulently uttering a false document with the intent to defraud the government, arguing that Ms. Catron submitted completion certificates for students she knew would be unlikely to finish the course by the Aug. 1 completion date, including some students who never started the course after registering.
Ms. Catron’s defense attorney, Laura Larner of Samson and McGrath, submitted to the judge during closed court Monday that no jury properly directed could find the defendant guilty, as the evidence was “so tenuous and vague,” and that there was “no evidence [Ms. Catron] was attempting to deceive the government” and that the documents she submitted were not false because they were not purporting to be something they were not.
The Cayman Islands Penal Code says that a person makes a false document when that person “makes a document purporting to be what in fact it is not; alters a document without authority in such a manner that if the alteration had been authorised it would have altered the effect of the document; or signs a document” in someone else’s name.
“In this case, we submit that the documents are exactly what they purport themselves to be,” Ms. Larner said, noting that they were created by a person authorized to complete them, and that they are the same documents that would have been given to a student upon completion of the course.
“They are purporting to be a completion certificate that will be issued after the 1st of August if someone completes the course,” Ms. Larner said.
Justice Swift said he was “satisfied” that the evidence that the certificates were uttered with the intent to defraud was not “tenuous” and the real issue to consider was “the discussion of falsity.”
The justice said there was “no evidence” that the certificates of completion were produced at any time other than asserted by the defendant, and that they easily could have been predated.
“I must not confuse fraud in their deployment with fraud in their creation,” he said.
In a statement issued Tuesday after the verdict was delivered, Ms. Catron said she was “very relieved” to be able to “finally put this ordeal” behind her.
“It has been a harrowing two [plus] years of my life and this entire situation has negatively impacted me both personally and professionally,” she said. “The damage can never be repaired, but now I have to choose to move forward in a positive manner.”
She said that the case was a “contractual dispute taken too far by one party.”
“There was absolutely no intention to deceive or defraud anyone and that was apparent by the explanatory email sent when the certificates were initially requested,” Ms. Catron said. “The evidence was clear and supported what I’ve always stated from day one.”