A former civilian employee of the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service was given a suspended sentence last week after pleading guilty to one charge of breach of trust in relation to misuse of a police credit card.
Sara Connor, 39, received a term of imprisonment of one year, but it was suspended for 18 months. Ms. Connor entered her guilty plea in October, admitting that she had used the RCIPS credit account provided by Kirk Supermarket to buy goods from the store for her family and had then failed to repay the balance.
The offense occurred between August 2013 and March 2016. Transactions by Ms. Connor totaled $7,487, but some money was paid back, resulting in a debt between $3,500 and $4,000.
After hearing that the defendant is a single mother of three children, Justice Carlisle Greaves declined to order compensation; he said that, if she could not afford to pay the money back when she was working for the police, she would not be able to pay it back now that she had a smaller salary at another job.
He also declined to order community service, saying her time would be better spent raising her children so that they did not become burdens to society.
Justice Greaves handed down the sentence after hearing the facts of the case from Crown counsel Toyin Salako and mitigation from defense attorney Margeta Facey-Clarke. The judge referred to Portia’s speech on the quality of mercy in William Shakespeare’s play, “The Merchant of Venice.” There are some cases in which justice must be tempered with mercy, he said, and his view was that Ms. Connor’s was such a case.
Ms. Salako explained that the defendant had been charged along with her supervisor, Siscely Solomon, who fled the jurisdiction two days before her first scheduled court appearance in September 2016. Ms. Solomon has not returned, the prosecutor indicated.
Ms. Connor worked as an accounts officer in the police finance department, where part of her duties involved payment of invoices on behalf of the police service. In 2011, the RCIPS entered into an agreement with Kirk whereby up to $5,000 could be charged, but had to be paid within 30 days. Ms. Solomon signed the agreement on behalf of the police and she collected seven charge cards that could be used at the store.
Ms. Salako said the cards were not used until August 2013, when the two women began purchasing groceries and household items on more than 100 occasions over the next two years. Initially, payments were made by the end of each month, so the police administration was not aware that the cards were being used. In April 2015, the women stopped making payments for use of the cards and the arrears started to accrue.
Even though the women knew payment was not being made, they continued to use the cards, Ms. Salako pointed out. By July 2015, Kirk was owed $5,422.70 and staff were trying to get payment. Two months later, $1,000 in cash was paid – the Crown believed it was by Ms. Connor – but by March 2016, Kirk was still owed $4,422.70.
When the financial comptroller was notified and Ms. Connor was questioned, she said she was in severe financial difficulties “and she did it to feed her kids.”
Ms. Facey-Clarke explained that her client had been given the credit card by Ms. Solomon and did not think she was doing anything wrong because she was paying the money back. She was struggling because, after a divorce from the father of her two older children, he had been ordered to pay $700 per month in child support. He then became ill and was unable to pay. The father of the youngest child became unemployed and was unable to pay child support. Ms. Connor was struggling to the point of asking a government department for food vouchers.
The attorney said Ms. Connor had suffered tremendous embarrassment when the charges against her became public. “It was heart-wrenching to explain to her children that she did it to put food in their stomachs,” she told the court.
After her guilty plea, she got jobs doing housework or cleaning people’s yards: She was an honest woman doing everything she possibly could, Ms. Facey-Clarke said of her client.
With the police, Ms. Connor had earned $2,650 per month. She had recently obtained employment that paid $450 per week and was renting out a room in her home for extra income, the attorney detailed. She asked for leniency – “Anything but prison. She has served her sentence already,” Ms. Facey-Clarke told the court.
In his sentencing remarks, Justice Greaves accepted Ms. Salako’s submission that the penalty should include imprisonment and he imposed the term of one year. But he also accepted Ms. Facey-Clarke’s submission that the defendant was of previous good character and had 17 years’ service with the RCIPS. Ms. Connor had been in a state of dire need, particularly for the feeding of her children, who at the time were very young.
Her ex-husband who agreed to pay $700 a month did not do so. Ms. Connor made several attempts to have the order enforced but was not successful. By the judge’s calculation, the man had failed to pay over $50,000 during a six-year period. Ms. Connor received no assistance from the institutions of state, including the courts, which had failed to enforce their own order, the judge noted.
He said the case for the defense was that these circumstances resulted in Ms. Connor turning to her supervisor, who in sympathy gave her one of the police credit cards. In the Merchant of Venice, the character Shylock had lent money to a young man who could not repay it. Shylock expected to collect his literal “pound of flesh” even though such payment would result in the young man’s death. Portia, as the attorney, told Shylock to take his pound of flesh – “but not one drop of blood, since that blood was not Shylock’s to take.”
That story explained the judicial system, the judge commented, because it combined the harshness of common law with the principles of justice and mercy.
After sentencing, Ms. Salako said charges of obtaining property by deception and false accounting would be left on file, which means they will not be proceeded with except by leave of the court. Charges against Ms. Solomon are still in the Summary Court.