Top immigration staffers face litany of legal accusations

Allegations of crime, drunk driving, other traffic-related charges and accusations of administrative wrongdoing have been made against several staffers – most of them in senior positions – in the Cayman Islands Immigration Department, with some cases dragging on for years.

One instance involves Cayman’s chief immigration officer, Linda Evans, who remains on paid suspension nearly two years after the incident that led to her removal.

The most recent incident involves the arrest of an assistant chief immigration officer last week on suspicion of harboring an illegal immigrant who Crown prosecutors believe was wanted in connection with warrants issued in the Bahamas.

No charges had been filed against the officer as of press time Thursday. The Cayman Compass is not naming her for legal reasons.

Ministry of Home Affairs officials, who have oversight responsibility for Cayman’s law enforcement agencies, including immigration, said the officer was placed on required leave (suspended with pay) while the circumstances that led to her arrest were reviewed.

This week the ministry indicated it had no update on any of the cases involving the immigration officials.

Linda Evans

Ms. Evans, appointed in September 2009 as Cayman’s chief immigration officer, was put on required leave Dec. 1, 2014 in connection with an internal investigation by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

The ministry previously stated that the probe relates to a “number of allegations of misconduct by the chief immigration officer, which require a full investigation.”

Acting Chief Immigration Officer Bruce Smith, who has since taken over the leadership post at the Immigration Department, has declined on numerous occasions to discuss matters related to Ms. Evans’s suspension.

In December 2015, Ministry Chief Officer Wesley Howell said: “I can only confirm that Ms. Evans remains on required leave and the administrative process is progressing.”

In late July 2016, Mr. Howell said: “Ms. Evans remains on required leave.”

The government’s internal review determined in February 2015 that the misconduct allegations against Ms. Evans were administrative in nature, meaning no criminal wrongdoing had been alleged.

Garfield Wong

A charge of driving under the influence against Deputy Chief Immigration Office Garfield “Gary” Wong – who is in charge of the department’s enforcement section – has been before the courts since at least April 2014.

Wong has been charged with DUI, driving without due care and attention and leaving the scene of an accident without reasonable cause. His blood-alcohol level was measured at 0.184 at the time of the incident on Dec. 28, 2013, court records state. The legal limit in Cayman is 0.100.

According to a statement from the RCIPS issued in 2014: “A Bodden Town Police officer formally charged a 47-year-old male with traffic offenses of leaving the scene of an accident, driving under the influence, and careless driving. These charges transpired out of a two-vehicle accident that occurred on Dec. 28, 2013 just after midnight [in] Lower Valley, Bodden Town, involving a Dodge Ram Truck and a BMW motor car.”

The police statement did not identify Mr. Wong, but he has been identified as the person arrested in connection with the incident.

Kathryn Dinspel-Powell of the Ministry of Home Affairs said at the time that Wong would remain on the job pending the outcome of the court case, since it involved traffic matters rather than criminal court (Penal Code) charges.

Gun and ganja

The senior immigration officer arrested last week was among five people taken into custody following a police raid in Savannah.

Royal Cayman Islands Police officers arrested the three men and two women during a dawn operation that recovered a firearm, some ammunition and an unspecified quantity of ganja, according to a police statement.

One of the men arrested, a 30-year-old from the Bahamas, was suspected of having illegally landed in Cayman, and police alleged that this man was being harbored by the senior immigration official.

The immigration officer, a 57-year-old woman, was arrested on suspicion of “knowingly assisting an illegal immigrant to remain in the Cayman Islands,” an immigration offense. She was also arrested on suspicion of unlicensed firearms possession and drugs possession with intent to supply.

A joint statement about the incident was released Thursday afternoon by the deputy governor and the ministry regarding the arrest: “Given the very serious nature of the allegations, the officer will be placed on required leave while the matter is being investigated.”

Immigration Department officials did not respond to Compass requests for comment about the arrest.

Director of boards

Kimberley Davis, the Immigration Department’s former director of boards and work permits, appeared in Summary Court in 2014 as the owner and operator of two businesses charged with immigration offenses. Davis had earlier been removed from her post. Ms. Davis was temporarily replaced by Shari Powell, who took over as acting director of boards.

Two businesses the courts claimed Davis operated, Launch Pad Enrichment Center (a day care center in Savannah) and Drink Fresh Juice, were alleged to have made false statements on work permit applications.

The false statements, according to court documents, related to setting up health and pension plans “knowing the information to be false or believing it not to be true.” A separate charge against Drink Fresh Juice alleged it had unlawfully employed a kitchen helper.

Traffic death

Cayman Islands immigration officer Nicholas Patrick Tibbetts pleaded guilty in July to causing death by careless driving, and will remain on paid leave with the department at least until his sentencing date.

Tibbetts pleaded guilty to one charge in connection with the hit-and-run car crash that killed 59-year-old bicyclist Donnie Ray Connor. Tibbetts’s sentencing was set for Nov. 8.

Government officials said Tibbetts was placed on required leave (paid suspension) in May 2015 and would remain on paid leave until the court case against him closes.

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  1. Allegations of crime, drunk driving, other traffic-related charges and accusations of administrative wrongdoing have been made against several staffers – most of them in senior positions – in the Cayman Islands Immigration Department, with some cases dragging on for years.

    As the old saying goes, ‘charity begins at home’.

    This newly appointed civilian-oriented Anti-Corruption Commission has its work cut out for it and the Immigration Dept. of the Cayman Islands might be a good place for it to focus its attention.

    Ms. Solomon-Harris used to be a prominent member of one of its boards and has a working knowledge of the system and the personnel who operates in it: she can provide valuable insight.

    It is inevitable that absolute power (over many peoples’ lives) has the potential to corrupt those who wield the power and it appears that this is what has happened in the case of Cayman’s immigration authorities.

    They control too much power over too many facets of the lives of too many people in the Cayman Islands and this is becoming a problem; this is not a current issue, it has been around for many years now.

    Many people will grind their teeth in rage when the corruption operations termed Operations Tempura and Cealt are mentioned and for justifiable reasons.

    What those same people will fail to acknowledge is that the long-term benefits to the Cayman Islands was in a cleaning-out and restructuring of the RCIPS, with some of the long-standing, reputably in-efficient and corrupt police officers being weeded out from the organization.

    While not being perfect, the RCIPS is now a more professional organization than it was before; recent operations leading to the arrests of some of these immigration personnel is proof of that.

    Quite possibly, similar steps will be needed to clean up Cayman’s Immigration Dept.