Justice Michael Wood is scheduled to begin summing up the evidence in the trial of Paul Anthony Hume Ebanks on Monday morning. He told jurors he planned to send them out to consider their verdicts on Tuesday morning.
Trial began the week of Oct. 10, with Ebanks facing 27 charges of obtaining property by deception; all but one of them relate to obtaining cash by falsely representing that various sums – mostly around $1,500 – were required payment for a legitimate grant of Caymanian status or permanent residence. He is alleged to have collected over $167,000 between July 2012 and December 2014. A separate charge relates to payment for an alleged government contract. Ebanks also faces one charge of theft of a passport.
On Friday, Justice Wood told jurors to put a line through one deception charge on their copies of the indictment. He explained that they had heard no evidence from the complainant in that charge and therefore they would be instructed later to return a verdict of not guilty.
Also on Friday, the judge released one of the jurors. The matter is now being heard by four women and two men.
Crown counsel Toyin Salako and defense attorney Laurence Aiolfi gave their closing speeches on Friday.
Earlier in the week, Mr. Aiolfi closed the case for the defense after Ebanks concluded his evidence.
Ebanks has maintained that he wanted to regularize his own status on the island and was told in 2012 that if he got 100 people to apply for status, then-Premier McKeeva Bush would help him sort out his own situation. He recruited an old friend to help him and explained that the purpose of the scheme was that the people who received status would then be able to register to vote. The friend in turn recruited two other women to find people to apply.
Ebanks and the women collected details from persons who wanted status, including their date of birth and contact number. Cash was required from each person, mostly in the sum of $1,500, and people were told that if they did not get status or permanent residence they would get their money back. After months passed and no one received anything, people started asking for their money. The defendant has said he passed the money on to Mr. Bush.
In his evidence last week, Ebanks told the court that politicians who were members of the United Democratic Party, of which Mr. Bush was the leader, all knew about the scheme.
Questioned by Ms. Salako as to whether they all knew, Ebanks replied, “I assume.” After a pause, he said, “Yes – they all knew what was going on.”
He said he did not know the scheme was a scam because there had been a mass status grant by government in 2003 when Mr. Bush was in power. After the general elections in May 2013, when the UDP was no longer in power, he said he suspected that the status/PR proposal was a scam.
By then people were threatening him, so he continued to take money from new people in order to give refunds to those who had paid money previously. He also hoped to pay people back from the numbers operation he ran periodically, he said, referring to an illegal lottery.
In his closing speech, Mr. Aiolfi pointed out that the first 16 charges against Ebanks related to the period before the May 2013 elections. The women who had helped recruit status applicants had believed the scheme to be legitimate: “Paul Ebanks could equally believe it was legitimate,” the attorney said. “Was Paul Ebanks duped as well?”
He referred to Ms. Salako’s closing address, in which she had referred to the people who had either paid Ebanks from their savings or borrowed money because they wanted so much to stay here – they wanted to believe in the scheme they were told about. The same thing could apply to Ebanks because there was an outcome he wanted also, Mr. Aiolfi said.
After May 2013, Ebanks agreed that he had taken money from people in order to reimburse others. Ebanks was under pressure: in one situation, he was due to pay someone back by 6:30 p.m. or else they were going to burn his house down. That provided a defense, the attorney said.
Ms. Salako had told the court that Ebanks had a skill for blaming everybody. “There is not a single name he wouldn’t offer to convince people,” she said, listing public figures such as Mr. Bush, Deputy Governor Franz Manderson, former MLAs Cline Glidden and Mark Scotland, former political candidate Jonathan Piercy and Financial Secretary Kenneth Jefferson. “Paul Ebanks says anything about anybody, with no sense of consequences or responsibility for his own actions,” she said.
Mr. Aiolfi responded to that point by noting that Ebanks had been arrested in September 2013 and had given his account, but it was not investigated. “Has this been proportionately and fairly dealt with?” he wondered. According to the prosecution, it was just Paul Ebanks involved and nobody else did anything wrong. He queried whether police had failed to investigate something. “We ask you to be skeptical about everything we’ve heard,” he told the jury.
Among the agreed facts presented to the jury was information about Ebanks’ phones. A list of contacts on his Blackberry included “McKeeva Driver” and McKeeva Bush.
There is a record of a call to the McKeeva Bush number on March 14, 2013 at 2:07:44 a.m. The call duration is listed as 00:00:00. There is no other record within the phone of calls to or from the contact number listed in the name of McKeeva Bush.
There was a total of eight outgoing calls to the contact number for McKeeva Driver recorded on the Blackberry. The total call duration was four minutes and 47 seconds.
Mr. Aiolfi pointed out that there were no phone records for 2012.
He invited the jury to return not guilty verdicts because Ebanks’ account of events was sufficient to raise doubts about the Crown’s case.