Former customs officer Floyd Vashni Bush received suspended sentences on Tuesday after pleading guilty earlier this year to unrelated charges of evading customs duty and assault.
Bush, now 38, was a serving customs officer in 2009-2011, when the offenses occurred. Charges were first brought to court in 2012: 24 charges of evading customs duty and 24 charges of conniving at the importation of goods into the islands other than through customs. Each of the conniving charges related to one of the evading duty charges.
Informal records show that Bush initially did not have an attorney; he eventually had three in succession, with Clyde Allen representing him when the matter was finally concluded.
In April this year, Bush pleaded guilty to four sets of charges involving failure to pay duty on motorcycle parts and, in one case, car parts. In each case, the value of the goods was stated to be less than their actual value, which resulted in less duty being assessed.
The Crown offered no evidence on one of the other sets of charges and the rest were left on file. Sentencing was adjourned pending a social inquiry report.
This week, Mr. Allen spoke in mitigation, suggesting that Bush’s offending was different from that of a banker or accountant who used his position to take cash from an employer. He said Bush had not taken any money, he simply had not paid and by not paying had obtained a benefit.
He suggested further that under the Alternative Sentencing Law, the court should ask if there was no sentence other than imprisonment that could be justified. He asked the court to consider Bush’s situation as a single parent to one child who resides with him and as a provider of financial support for two other children.
For failure to pay duty, the Customs Law provides a mandatory penalty of three times the duty owed plus the amount of duty. Magistrate Angelyn Hernandez calculated the penalties Bush owed as totaling $849.03.
For the offense of conniving, the penalty was a fine of up to $6,000 and imprisonment up to five years.
The magistrate pointed out that Bush had been responsible for ensuring that members of the public paid the duty they owed. “He was breaking the law he was supposed to uphold,” she commented.
By Bush’s offending, harm was done to the trust that is placed in public officers, she pointed out. Harm was also done to the public purse that provides services to the public, she said.
“I take the view that breach of trust always carries imprisonment,” she concluded. She determined that the appropriate sentence was 16 weeks. However, three children relied on him financially, and one of them custodially. “Only because of the children,” she emphasized, was she suspending the sentence for two years.
Separate charges of assault related to an incident that occurred in April 2016. Bush was charged with three counts of assault causing actual bodily harm, but in May this year the Crown accepted pleas of guilty to common assault.
The assaults were against three women who had been at a party, the magistrate summarized. One was the mother of one of Bush’s children and his assault of her included throwing a water bottle at her, pushing her against a car and biting her hand. When two of her friends intervened, he hit them in the face.
These offenses were distinct from the customs offenses, she noted. Bush’s guilty pleas were not early, but a trial had been avoided. She therefore imposed concurrent sentences of three and six weeks under a suspended sentence supervision order, but directed him to attend and complete an anger management program and a men’s anti-domestic violence program.