The FID is reminding Jamaicans that they must be cautious to not breach the Proceeds of Crime Act. “Any role you play, the FID will make you pay,” those are the words of the FID’s Director of Legal Services, Courtney Smith as he commented on the Pecuniary Penalty Order (PPO) to which Romander Fletcher consented when he appeared before the St. James Parish Court on January 19, 2021 for a benefit hearing.
Fletcher is a 31-year-old resident of Reading, St. James who was employed as a waiter in the hospitality sector. He was convicted in 2015 after pleading guilty to unlawful possession of identity information with intent to use.
Forensic evidence presented in the case revealed that Fletcher benefitted to the tune of J$11.4 million from his participation in lottery scamming activities over a 4-year period leading up to his 2014 arrest. His role was to collect remittances and direct transfers to his bank account following which he withdrew the funds thereby ending the paper trail.
Smith noted, “His claim was that he didn’t have the money and he was only collecting it for somebody and he gave it to that person. But the point of this is, whether you are the major player or you’re the person who allowed someone else to use your bank account to funnel these funds, we are coming for you.”
“It has come to your account, it is yours and you will be the one to pay back. You have benefitted; the law says once you hold it, once you own it within a specific period of committing the offence it is your benefit from crime. This is not a simple process… your life will be disrupted.”
Following his conviction Fletcher lost his employment in the hospitality sector and appears to be blacklisted. However, he claims to be now employed in the construction industry as a mason.
In commenting on the time which elapsed between Fletcher’s conviction and the benefit hearing in 2021 Smith said, “His constitutional rights had to be protected so, the Court was giving him time to properly instruct his counsel and mount his defence just so it wouldn’t be an issue for appeal if we ever got through that trial. We eventually decided to settle this matter because having looked through the evidence he was unable to mount a reasonable defence.”
Among the reasons for Fletcher’s inability to mount a reasonable defence is that he feared endangering himself and his family if he revealed the name of the mastermind. His defence counsel indicated he was impoverished at the time of his arrest; the FID’s own investigations indicated a similar position. When arrested, a sum of just under J$500,000 belonging to Fletcher in a savings account was restrained; this represented the only remaining benefit of his criminal lifestyle.
Following the submission of arguments from the FID and Fletcher’s defence counsel, he consented to the following:
- Forfeiture of the funds remaining in his savings account plus the interest accrued.
- Payment of the sum of J$6M to the government as a Pecuniary Penalty by order made under the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA).
- The full benefit of J$11.4M becomes due and payable should he commit another ‘scamming’-related offence.
Usually this order is payable, by law, within 6 months of the order with non-payment being made a criminal offence by the POCA. However, given the circumstances outlined, the FID agreed to receive payments being made in monthly instalments of J$50,000 until liquidation (about 120 months).
Smith added, “The Pecuniary Penalty Order is a part of his sentencing. There are several goals which can be achieved by sentencing. There’s retribution, where some say we should go for the full benefit plus interest, but there are other goals, like incapacitation, deterrence and rehabilitation. On a case-by-case basis we (FID) take a scientific approach to determining the minimum amount that we can receive from the defendant as an acceptable PPO.”
“This is a young man who will be paying this money every month for the next ten years. If he keeps up a legitimate job to pay this from legitimate sources of income it is highly unlikely that he is going to return to a life of scamming again – rehabilitation”
“Deterrence – other members of the community will see that his hard-earned legitimate money is now going to the government so he’s an example for the society, he’s an example to even his children and whoever will see, that crime does not pay.”
Failure to pay is a criminal offence under the POCA for which Fletcher can be arrested, charged, convicted and imprisoned. The debt will remain to be paid in full plus interest accrued after the prison term.