Judgement expected today in Manchester fraud case

MANDEVILLE, Manchester — The verdict in one of the country’s highly publicised court cases — the $400-million Manchester Municipal Corporation fraud trial — is scheduled to be delivered electronically today, in keeping with physical distancing measures occasioned by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Senior parish court judge Ann Marie Grainger, who has been hearing evidence since the high-profile trial began last June, will live stream her summation and verdict from one of three courtrooms at the James Warehouse Plaza in the Mandeville town centre.

This location has been used as a court venue since a pre-dawn fire damaged the Mandeville courthouse last November.

The feed will be transmitted to monitors installed in two courtrooms, in which the seven defendants and their five attorneys will be accommodated, in numbers that permit the mandatory spacing of six feet between individuals.

Parish judge Grainger had already made the novel move in mid-March to have the remaining closing arguments of both prosecution and defence teams submitted by e-mail, as Jamaica recorded its first two positive cases of COVID-19.

The decision to cease courtroom hearings, and move the submissions online, was taken by Grainger when she convened court at the James Warehouse Plaza briefly on March 16. At the time, she had expressed grave reservations about conducting the trial in an enclosed environment and instead instructed that the Crown send its closing arguments by e-mail to the defence by March 20. At the time, the wearing of masks in public spaces was not yet mandatory.

Thereafter, she ordered that the defence, in turn, also respond via e-mail by March 31 and that both submissions be made available to her for judgement to be handed down on May 15.

The verdict was originally intended to be delivered at the courthouse in Porus, a town about 12 miles east of the capital Mandeville.

At the last courtroom sitting in March, the judge had stipulated that in conforming to safe distancing rules, with the exception of members of the news media, a public audience will not be permitted in court.

The seven defendants in the matter are three former employees of the municipal corporation — the deputy superintendent in charge of road and works, Sanja Elliott; the acting chief executive officer, David Harris; and temporary works overseer Kendale Roberts. The other defendants are Elliott’s wife Tashagaye and his mother Myrtle Elliott, construction worker Dwyane Sibblies, and former bank employee Radcliffe McLean.

The Crown is alleging that Sanja Elliott was the mastermind behind an elaborate scheme that used the municipal’s invoices, vouchers and cheques to unlawfully “funnel” hundreds of millions of dollars of public funds out of the corporation in “arbitrary amounts” over a three-year period, between 2013-2016. His co-defendants, it is alleged, were part of the purported conspiracy.

Sanja’s father Elwardo, a former co-accused, was freed of charges associated with the alleged conspiracy in January.

In February, at the Porus courthouse, each of the remaining seven accused declared their innocence in unsworn statements from the dock, which precluded them from interrogation by the Crown.

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