Judge: Crown ‘overloading’ charges

A Cayman Islands Grand Court judge cautioned the Crown on Monday over what he said appeared to be an attempt to “overload” an indictment against an investment funds accountant who pleaded guilty to stealing nearly US$500,000.

The case of Robert Neil Aspinall, who was sentenced Monday, involved a complicated scheme of deception to cover up Aspinall’s theft from two funds for which he was appointed joint voluntary liquidator.

Judge Timothy Owen said that in his view of the case, two charges of theft against Aspinall “would have sufficed.”

“The simple reality is that [Aspinall] stole a total of US$495,414.20 from two connected funds registered in the Cayman Islands over 10 months,” Mr. Owen said. “[Aspinall] forged documents, and having stolen the money, [he] set about spending the ill-gotten cash.”

In the context of two charges to which Aspinall pleaded guilty, converting criminal property, the criminal act alleged is that the accountant spent the stolen money on a new house and a BMW. Converting criminal property is a money-laundering offense.

During a sentencing hearing for Aspinall on Friday, defense attorney James Austin-Smith argued that these two money-laundering charges amounted to “what we used to call ‘spending the money.’”

Justice Owen said the charging of a defendant is “not just a matter of legal definition,” but must be linked to the conduct of the defendant.

“All thieves tend to spend the proceeds of their theft if they can before they are apprehended,” the judge said. “Alleging that they are also money launderers because they manage to spend some or all of the proceeds of their predicate crime generally adds nothing to the gravity of their conduct.”

Aspinall was charged with 14 counts, six of which he pleaded guilty to on Friday. The other eight charges, including other allegations that Aspinall transferred criminal property, were left on file after he pleaded not guilty. During sentencing he received no additional, consecutive sentence for the two counts of forgery or two counts of converting criminal property to which he pleaded guilty.

“I see no necessary public purpose in proceeding with counts of money laundering … in circumstances where [Aspinall’s] conduct is fairly covered by allegations of theft,” the judge said.