A woman who paid $32,000 for what she believed would be legitimate grants of Caymanian status told the court on Tuesday that she had a meeting with McKeeva Bush and his attorney.

Norma Richards was giving evidence in the trial of Paul Anthony Hume Ebanks, who has pleaded not guilty to obtaining a total of $167,400 from various complainants, mostly by falsely representing that a specific sum of cash was required as payment for a legitimate grant of Caymanian status.

Mrs. Richards, who described herself as “Caymanian by paper,” said she was aware of grants of status in 2003 when Mr. Bush was Leader of Government Business.

In April 2012, she heard about a scheme concerning grants of status and spoke to her friend Earldine O. Gordon about it. Ms. Gordon earlier told the court that the defendant had convinced her of the scheme’s legitimacy and she agreed to recruit people for it.

Mrs. Richards said Ms. Gordon told her the scheme was “legit.” The witness said she paid Ms. Gordon $2,000 on behalf of a family member. She was not suspicious because she had previously dealt with Ms. Gordon, who she said was honest and sincere.

Mrs. Richards did not actively recruit anyone to pay for status, but she did mention it to someone who gave her money on behalf of other applicants. She ended up handing over a total of $32,000.

She understood that the first batch of status grants would be in October that year, but by the end of 2012 there was no progress, only promises.

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“At that point, there was some disturbance in government with the premier and I was told there was going to be a delay,” Mrs. Richards told the court.

Mrs. Richards did not actively recruit anyone to pay for status, but she did mention it to someone who gave her money on behalf of other applicants. She ended up handing over a total of $32,000.

Crown prosecutor Toyin Salako asked if then-premier Mr. Bush had any involvement in the status scheme. The witness replied, “Not to my knowledge, but his name was called.”

After Mr. Bush was removed from office in December 2012, Mrs. Richards said she became concerned but Ms. Gordon assured her there was nothing to be worried about.

In January 2013, Mrs. Richards received a phone call from a man who said he was calling from Peter Gough’s office. She did not know who Mr. Gough was. Thinking she was the female family member who had paid for status, the man told her, “Congratulations, you’ve been granted Caymanian status.” The man gave her a date to come to the Government Administration Building for a ceremony for status.

About two hours later, she received another call from the same person, who told her that a male family member, for whom she had paid $2,000, had also been granted status.

She called Ms. Gordon, who told her other people had also phoned her to say they had received the same congratulatory call.

Later in her evidence, Mrs. Richards said she did not know of Ebanks’s involvement until July 2013. After speaking with him on that occasion, she concluded that Ebanks’s voice was the voice she heard in the congratulatory calls.

She noted that the man had called back to say there was a change in how status would be granted: it was going to be sent by registered mail.

Asked what she received in registered mail, Mrs. Richards replied, “Nothing. I’m still waiting.”
After nothing happened, she decided she wanted a refund.

Around May 2013, Mrs. Richards phoned the United Democratic Party office to speak to Mr. Bush. She got an appointment and met him and his lawyer, who she did not name, at the lawyer’s office on South Church Street. Her husband went with her.

She said she was advised by the lawyer to get her money back from Ms. Gordon. She said Mr. Bush pointed out that a person had to be in Cayman for a number of years and submit documentation to apply for status. He said he had no part in the scheme she described.

When she said she was going to the police, the lawyer cautioned her, but Mrs. Richards said she had done nothing wrong and was not afraid.

She said the lawyer replied, “You two little Jamaicans – you go to the police, they will put handcuffs on you.” She said he indicated that she would be arrested on some conspiracy charge.

After that meeting, she did not go to police, but called Ms. Gordon again, demanding a meeting with other people who had been collecting money for status. That meeting took place in July 2013. Present were Ms. Gordon, her sister Margaret McLaughlin, and Siri Russell (all of whom have given evidence). Also present were two Jamaicans and Ebanks. She said Ebanks explained to her that he was contacted by the “big boss McKeeva,” and he was the person to report to Mr. Bush.

Mrs. Richards demanded her money back and Ebanks admitted he had received the money from Ms. Gordon. He said if he gave it back, he might not get it again when the certificates were presented. He explained that Deputy Governor Franz Manderson was going to be acting governor later that month when the governor left the island, and as acting governor he would be the person to sign the certificates.

Mrs. Richards said Ebanks later arranged to meet her to give her money back, but he did not keep the appointment. Police contacted her in October 2013 and she subsequently gave a statement. She said she was paid back $2,000, but did not specify from whom.

Defense attorney Laurence Aiolfi suggested she was mistaken about Ebanks being the man who called to offer congratulations about receiving status. Mrs. Richards replied, “I’m very certain.”