A Grand Court trial now in its seventh week is nearing its end as Justice Philip St. John-Stevens was scheduled to continue summing up the matter on Monday.
The trial involves five immigration officers and two civilians charged with conspiracy to commit fraud on the government.
It is a criminal offense to commit fraud on the government, the judge pointed out. If two or more people agree to commit fraud, that agreement itself is a criminal offense. An agreement to commit a crime is called a conspiracy.
All seven defendants are charged with entering into a conspiracy with the other defendants and/or with other individuals to commit fraud.
The fraud alleged is that money was being paid to public officers so that certain work permit applicants, referred to as candidates, would pass an English Language Test. The test was required for people from countries in which English is not the primary language. Specifically mentioned were the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Honduras. The amount of money was usually referred to as US$800 or CI$600.
The alleged conspiracy was said to have taken place between August 2015, and June 2016. The seven defendants were arrested on various dates in 2017 and they all pleaded not guilty in 2018. Because of the number of defense attorneys involved, no dates were clear for the trial until January 2019.
Justice St. John Stevens emphasized that the jury will have to return separate verdicts for each defendant.
He noted that the prosecution did not have to prove that each defendant was in the conspiracy from beginning to end, because people could join or leave at different times.
The prosecution did have to prove, so that jurors were sure, several ingredients: that there was an agreed scheme to provide help to candidates to pass the English language test in exchange for payment; that a defendant joined the agreement with one or more other individuals; that the scheme would be carried out according to the agreement; that the defendant was aware he or she was joining a larger scheme – although the prosecution did not have to prove that the defendant had been in contact with all the other people in the conspiracy.
When the defendants were arrested, their cellphones were seized and thousands of messages were obtained. The messages were screened using key words. Many of the messages were in Spanish. Jurors were given copies of the phone messages.
Acting Director of Public Prosecutions Patrick Moran, who has led the Crown team in this case, called a Spanish language interpreter as an expert witness about the messages. Mirko Melise, who had translated the messages for the Crown in the course of the investigation, gave evidence via video link about his work.
Justice St. John Stevens told jurors that an expert witness is entitled to express his or her opinion, but they could accept or reject all or part of what the expert said.
Mr. Melise told the court that some of the Spanish messages were grammatically incorrect, or there were words misspelled or omitted, or there was no punctuation. These factors made interpretation difficult, he said. He agreed that the context of the message was important in helping him translate it. If messages were omitted or out of sequence, this could affect the accuracy of his translation, he said.
The judge also commented on the evidence of one woman who pleaded guilty to four charges of conspiracy to defraud the government. They relate to her participation in a conspiracy involving arrangements for four people to pass the English language test in exchange for the payment of money.
Jurors were told that they needed to ask themselves whether she had tailored her evidence as it affected a defendant, or whether they could be sure that she told the truth. Defense attorneys had suggested that she had given her evidence in the hope of getting a reduced sentence for her own involvement.
If jurors were sure she had told the truth, they could rely on that evidence as they considered it in relation to each defendant.
When court adjourned on Friday, the judge was in the process of reviewing the evidence of each defendant and the witnesses they called. He reminded jurors that defendants’ evidence had to be judged by the same standard that applied to Crown witnesses.
He suggested that pressure and stress could have affected the way defendants “came across” when they gave their evidence.
The five immigration officers are further charged with failing to report the solicitation of an advantage or reward.
For legal reasons, the names of the defendants are not being published at this time.