The third and final instalment of Cayman’s largest-ever corruption trial ended Thursday when a jury delivered three guilty verdicts. The latest verdicts bring the total number of convictions to nine out of the 12 defendants.
The case of fraud, breach of trust and bribery involved a network of corruption among one dozen individuals, half of whom were government officers who held senior roles within the then Immigration Department – now Customs and Border Control.
Between August 2015 and June 2016, each defendant was alleged to have played varying roles in providing people with fraudulent passing grades to an Immigration Department English-language test. The exam was a mandatory requirement for people whose primary language was not English.
The immigration officers involved were Marcus Alexander, Kathy-Ann Forbes, Carlos Robinson, Pheadra McDonald, Diane Dey-Rankin and Sherry Lee McLaughlin. The civilian defendants were Santo Castro Castillo, Marlenis Perez Mata, Mariel Maleno Suriel, Katerine Montero Paniagua, Carolin Nixon-Lopez and Angela Suyapa Rodriguez David.
The initial indictment listed a total of 32 charges brought against the defendants – conspiracy to commit breach of trust, conspiracy to commit fraud on the government, and failing to report the solicitation of an advantage or reward. That indictment was later reduced to six counts, which alleged the same wrongdoing, apart from the breach of trust charge. Initially, all the defendants except for Maleno Suriel pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The matter first came to light in June 2016, when senior immigration officers became suspicious of how the English-language tests were being conducted. An investigation was launched, following which the matter was transferred to the Anti-Corruption Commission. When the case eventually made its way to court in the latter part of 2018, it was broken down into three jury trials, the first of which occurred in January.
“People were willing to pay hundreds of dollars to pass the test,” said prosecutor Greg Walcolm, who tried all three cases.
Alexander, a senior immigration official, was at the centre of the allegations. He was described as the ‘ring-leader’ and was alleged to have worked with all the other immigration officials and several of the other defendants. The first and largest of the three trials ended in mixed verdicts. Alexander, Forbes, Robinson and Castro Castillo were all convicted of conspiracy to commit fraud and failing to report the solicitation of an advantage or reward. Dey-Rankin and McDonald were both acquitted of the fraud charges but convicted of failing to report the solicitation of an advantage. Montero Paniagua was acquitted of all charges.
Castro Castillo and McLaughlin, who were both listed in the second trial, were acquitted on charges of failing to report the solicitation of an advantage or reward.
The third trial involved Dey-Rankin, Nixon-Lopez and Rodriquez David. All three defendants were convicted of failing to report the solicitation of an advantage or reward.
Having been found not guilty, McLaughlin and Montero Paniagua were both discharged. Although Perez Mata was listed on the indictment, no evidence was offered against her, and she did not appear in any of the three trials. She has since been discharged.
All that remains is for the sentencing of Alexander, Forbes, Robinson, McDonald, Dey-Rankin, Castro Castillo, Maleno Suriel, Nixon-Lopez and Rodriquez David. A sentencing date has not yet been set and each defendant has been released on bail.
Prior to the start of the trial, a court-imposed order prevented the Cayman Compass from releasing the identities of the defendants. That order was lifted following the return of Thursday’s verdicts.