Gov’t clerk accused of $50K theft

Prosecutors allege former government clerk Atisa Ebanks stole more than $50,000 meant to pay for citizenship applications, and falsifying receipts for almost two years.

In the Grand Court jury trial that began this week, prosecutors accuse Ebanks of 30 counts of theft, alleging she stole $500 in naturalization fees, paid in cash to the Chief Secretary’s Office, now known as the Deputy Governor’s Office.

Prosecutors say a forensic audit found more than 100 irregularities in the books, with applicants paying the $500 fee to government, but the money was not accounted for in the government’s payment system.

Crown counsel Toyin Salako, opening the trial, accused Ebanks of taking the money and giving the citizenship applicants fake receipts, stealing $51,000 between early 2007 and March 2009.

Questioned about her department’s payment processing during the trial on Wednesday, former corporate manager for the Chief Secretary’s Office Christine Wright said there was “an element of trust” that kept the fraud from being discovered.

Referring to the government accounting system, Ms. Wright testified that she relied on the software to flag potential problems, “if there were any discrepancies, the IRIS system would have picked it up.”

The Crown said the Chief Secretary’s Office first figured out something was amiss with the payments on Oct. 24, 2008, when one of the applicants was not called as part of the Pledge Ceremony, the final step in naturalization.

The woman had expected to be naturalized during the ceremony, but was not on the list because her $500 fee payment had not been recorded.

Ebanks allegedly stole the money and gave the woman a fake receipt. The woman brought the receipt back to the office and another clerk saw that the receipt was not what the office would have issued and there was no information in the accounting system about the payment.

The clerk brought the issue to Ms. Wright, and Ebanks returned the money, saying she had forgotten it in her desk.

The prosecutor said the mistake triggered an internal audit that found a pattern of stealing cash used to pay the fees and generating false receipts.

The Chief Secretary’s Office placed Ebanks on required leave in March 2009, according to prosecutors, and she resigned in December of that year.

The trial continues Thursday.