Former Urban Renewal Deputy Director Michelle Reckley was charged in a Nassau court yesterday with defrauding the government of over $1.2 million through the government’s Small Homes Repair Programme on Grand Bahama.
Reckley, 50, was charged along with James Hall, 49; Christopher Symonette, 57; Stefanie Collie, 28; Kylon Vincent, 26 and Joseph Lightbourne, 40.
There were 41 charges in total. All six entered not guilty pleas.
Reckley and Hall elected to have their matters heard in the magistrate’s court.
The offenses are alleged to have occurred on Grand Bahama.
They appeared before Chief Magistrate Joyann Ferguson-Pratt after their arraignment was delayed on Tuesday due to “poorly constructed” dockets.
The courtroom was filled to capacity with relatives and supporters, including former Prime Minister Perry Christie, his wife Bernadette and their daughter Alex.
Ferguson-Pratt allowed for a five-minute break to allow officers to bring in an additional bench and chairs for the dozens of people trying to get inside court.
Reckley and Hall were charged with one count of conspiracy to commit fraud by false pretenses and six counts of fraud by false pretenses.
Prosecutors allege that the pair, between December 5, 2016 and April 25, 2017, obtained payments totaling $1,255,637.84 from the government for contracts issued to James Hall T/A Distinctive Builders under the government’s Small Homes Repair Programme in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.
Reckley was further charged with six counts of money laundering.
It is alleged that between November 30, 2016 and April 7, 2017, Reckley laundered a total of $317,822.18.
Of that sum, prosecutors allege that Reckley transferred $26,000 from her CIBC FirstCaribbean account to Vincent; $47,760 to Collie and $3,000 to James Wildgoose, “in the form of checks” with intent to conceal and disguise that property.
Reckley was also charged with one count of attempted money laundering. It is alleged that on July 13, 2017, Reckley attempted to transfer $172,646.18 of criminal proceeds from her CIBC account to her Teachers and Salaried Workers Co-operative Credit Union account.
She was charged with three counts of extortion.
Prosecutors claim that in her duties as a public officer, Reckley obtained, “under cover of your office,” payments totaling $71,062.18 from Hall and Symonette.
Reckley was also charged with two counts of corrupt transaction with agents.
It is alleged that Reckley, as an agent of the government, did corruptly accept from Hall $230,000, as a “reward for assisting him with the grant of a government contract under the Small Homes Repair Programme and with a contract to repair the Bartlett Hill Primary School in Eight Mile Rock.
Reckley, Hall, Symonette, Vincent and Collie were all charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit fraud by money laundering.
Hall was charged with six counts of money laundering, totaling $1.4 million, and two counts of corrupt transaction with agents totaling $230,000.
Vincent and Symonette were also charged with two counts of money laundering, assisting to conceal the proceeds of criminal conduct and one count of money laundering.
Prosecutors allege that $1.2 million in criminal proceeds was transferred to their CIBC bank accounts in the name of Chris Symonette and Associates (Freeport).
Collie was charged with two counts of money laundering, assisting to conceal the proceeds of criminal conduct, and two counts of money laundering.
Prosecutors allege that Collie had reasonable grounds to suspect that the $79,000 in checks she received from Symonette and $47,760 in checks from Reckley, represented the proceeds of criminal conduct.
They claim she disposed of the checks by cashing them and using the funds to “conceal and disguise that property”.
Finally, Lightbourne was charged with five counts of abetment to fraud by false pretenses.
Ferguson-Pratt informed the six that she did not have jurisdiction to consider bail. However, Wayne Munroe, QC, indicated that the defense intended to proceed to the Supreme Court to seek bail.
They were each granted $9,000 bail.
Reckley has to report to the Central Police Station on Grand Bahama once a month and the other five have to report three times a week.
Ferguson-Pratt asked prosecutor Eucal Bonaby his position on the venue, noting that five of the defendants are from Grand Bahama.
“Has there been any consideration that five of them are from Grand Bahama?” she asked.
“The witnesses, where are they from?”
Munroe, who appeared on behalf of Symonette, noted that Minister of Social Services Frankie Campbell is listed as a witness.
The prosecution and defense agreed that the matter should be tried on New Providence.
However, it remains unclear which magistrate will hear it.
Ferguson-Pratt indicated that she wished for Deputy Chief Magistrate Subusola Swain to hear the matter, but Damian Gomez, QC, noted that he represents Swain in several civil matters.
“I have no problem appearing before her,” Gomez said. “I wanted to, out of an abundance of caution, inform this court of that.”
Freeport-based attorney Simeon Brown, who appeared on behalf of Hall, said this is a unique case.
“There is some unique characteristics in this prosecution,” he said.
“We have a minister of the government as the chief witness. This has all the characteristics of a political prosecution.”
The matter was adjourned to March 18 for a status hearing.
Anthony McKinney, QC, Munroe, Jomo Campbell and Owen Wells appeared on behalf of Symonette.
Gomez, Philip “Fish” McKenzie, Devard Francis and Renaldo Toote appeared on behalf of Reckley, Vincent and Collie.
Brown represented Hall and Lightbourne.
Bonaby and Kendra Kelly appeared on behalf of the Office of the Attorney General.