The owner of a travel agency was found not guilty on Tuesday of obtaining property by deception from 12 customers between December 2014 and March 2015.
Theresa Eleanor Chin, who owned and operated Cayman 123 Travel, was also found not guilty on one count of attempting to obtain property by deception. This count pertained to an attempt to obtain airline travel tickets valued at $2,049.37 by falsely representing that she was authorized to use a credit card belonging to one of her customers.
Most of the other charges alleged dishonestly receiving cash by falsely representing that a valid ticket for air travel would be issued in exchange for the cash payment.
The case for the prosecution, as presented by Crown counsel Toyin Salako, was that the defendant did not buy the tickets for her customers immediately, but used the money for other things to keep her company afloat or to purchase more urgent flights for other customers.
Ms. Salako commented at one stage that “robbing Peter to pay Paul” was still robbing.
The defense, conducted by attorney Nicholas Dixey, was that Chin may have been a poor businesswoman, but she was not dishonest. He said she did not intend to deprive her customers of their money – that she intended to purchase and issue the tickets nearer the time when the customers wished to fly.
In some cases, she was able to get tickets in time for the flight. In some cases, the customers were not able to fly because there was no ticket at the airport for them. In other cases, the customer purchased another ticket out of his or her own pocket. It was not clear whether everybody was fully reimbursed.
The defendant gave evidence of her experience in the airline travel business. She formed Cayman 123 Travel in 2007 and did well, expanding to employ six agents. About 40 percent of her business came through corporate clients.
The defendant said her problems started in 2013 when CONCACAF became her client; the office was still in Miami and had not yet moved to Cayman. Most of the time their tickets were first class or business; the lowest invoice for a month was $56,000.
She would send the office an invoice every week. She ended up getting paid once per month, but she had to submit her payments more often so that her company was “put out,” she explained.
This and other problems led to the suspension of her license from the International Air Transportation Association, which meant she could no longer book tickets through a travel agent accreditation program. As Justice Quin explained in his summing up to the jury, she had to go to another travel agency like any other customer and buy tickets for her customers at a higher cost than she would have paid as a travel agent.
During the trial, when Chin was giving evidence, the judge had asked, “Was CONCACAF your largest client?”
“Yes,” she replied.
He then asked, “If they had paid on time, would you have had problems with IATA?”
“No, I wouldn’t,” she said.
In his directions to the jury on law, he explained that a person commits an offense when, by any deception, he or she dishonestly obtains property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it.
There was no dispute that the defendant did obtain property – cash – from others.
The question then was: At the time of accepting the property did she directly or indirectly represent that it was a payment in return for which she would provide travel tickets for their intended destination according to their itinerary? If the jurors answered no, she was not guilty and they need go no further.
If they said yes, they were to consider the next question: At the time of making that representation did the defendant (whether recklessly or deliberately by words or conduct) deceive the customer into believing that in exchange for their cash, she would provide the travel tickets? If the answer was no, the verdict would be not guilty. If the answer was yes, jurors were to consider the next question.
Was that deception dishonest on the standard of ordinary and honest people? If the answer was no, the verdict was not guilty. If the answer was yes, there was one last question:
At the time of making the deception dishonestly, was it the intention of Theresa Eleanor Chin to permanently deprive the customers of their property? If the answer was no, the verdict was not guilty. If the answer was yes, the verdict was guilty.
Someone who appropriates property belonging to another person without meaning for the other person to lose that property permanently is nevertheless to be regarded as having the intention of permanently depriving the other person of it if his intention is to treat the thing as his own to dispose of regardless of the other person’s rights, the judge instructed.
The jury of five men and two women began hearing the case on April 5.