In a scathing response to the dismissed charges against four people accused of allegedly helping former Urban Renewal boss Michelle Reckley launder more than a quarter million dollars, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions said the magistrate’s ruling indicated “serious and grave errors in law”.
The DPP has filed an appeal on the grounds of an erroneous application of the law.
Magistrate Ambrose Armbrister made the ruling to dismiss the charges against the three men and one woman on Friday after finding the statute of limitations had expired.
Armbrister told Kylon Vincent, 26, Stefanie Collie, 28, and Christopher Symonette, 57, that he lacked jurisdiction to preside over their case because the charges were laid against them more than six months after they were alleged to have been committed.
His ruling also affected James Wildgoose, who had not been arrested and charged in relation to the offenses.
“The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), wishes to assure the Bahamian public that the magistrate who discharged certain co-accused persons from certain money laundering charges, in its view, made serious and grave errors in law,” said the DPP in a statement on Friday.
“The law provides that an indictable offense has no statutory time limitation as set forth in section 213(2) of the Criminal Procedure Code Act (CPC).
“Money laundering is an indictable offense.
“It is noteworthy, that in 2017, the CPC was amended to make it absolutely clear that an indictable offense is ‘any offense which is triable on information before the Supreme Court’, as per section 2 thereof.
“Money laundering is an indictable offense because it is triable on information before the Supreme Court.
“The time limit of six months to lay charges before a magistrate’s court is only applicable to a strictly summary offense.
“It so happens that money laundering is an indictable offense which may also be tried in the magistrate’s court, by a decision of the Crown, as provided for in section 58(8) of the CPC. The Crown elected to have the indictable matter tried summarily.”
Armbrister noted that the defendants were charged under the Proceeds of Crime Act that was repealed in May 2018.
Lead prosecutor Eucal Bonaby said that this did not “do violence” to the matters because the police investigation into the money laundering charges began when the old act was in effect.
Armbrister, however, was not convinced and noted, “You cannot charge someone with an offense that does not exist.”
Despite this, the DPP maintained that the magistrate erred in failing to find that section 20 of the Interpretation and General Clauses Act allows charges to be brought under a repealed act in the circumstances provided for in the Interpretation and General Clauses Act.
“In the aforementioned circumstances, the Crown has filed an appeal of the presiding magistrate’s decision based on, among other things, an erroneous application of the law,” the statement continued.
“The prosecutors are also requesting that the Court of Appeal hear the appeal at the earliest possible opportunity.”
Armbrister’s ruling did not affect 50-year-old Reckley, who is accused of defrauding the government of over $1.2 million through the government’s Small Homes Repair Programme on Grand Bahama, and her alleged co-conspirators James Hall and Joseph Lightbourne.
Prosecutors allege that Reckley and Hall, 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.