Gibson tried to end free-for-all in cleanup efforts, court hears

Former Cabinet minister Shane Gibson tried to end free-for-all abuses by contractors involved in the cleanup efforts after Hurricane Matthew in October 2016, a Supreme Court jury heard yesterday.

This was revealed during the testimony of Permanent Secretary Jack Thompson who was the director of the National Recovery and Reconstruction Unit (NRRU), the agency responsible for the restoration efforts in the wake of the devastating hurricane.

Gibson, 58, who had ministerial responsibility for the NRRU, is on trial before Justice Carolita Bethel and a nine-member jury for allegedly accepting and soliciting bribes from contractor Jonathan Ash to accelerate his payments.

According to the indictment, Gibson demanded $330,000 in bribes from Ash and received $280,000 in bribes from him from January to March 2017.

Thompson said that Deborah Bastian, the woman prosecutors allege received and delivered $250,000 in illegal payments to Gibson, would verify the submitted bills before sending them off to the Public Treasury.

According to a spreadsheet produced by Thompson, Ash, who has been afforded immunity, was paid over $7.5 million of the total of $8.7 million paid to contractors for the hurricane cleanup work.

Lead prosecutor James Guthrie, QC, asked Thompson how work was allocated to contractors.

Thompson said that Gibson decided to introduce a more coordinated system for the cleanup after workers submitted large bills for payment.

Thompson said in order to stop the abuses, Gibson established protocol to establish a contract process.

Thompson said he met Ash in January 2017 and learned that he was assigned to carry out work in Centreville.

Guthrie asked, “As far as you know, did he carry out work?”

Thompson said, “I can’t answer that.”

In cross-examination by Gibson’s lawyer, Keith Knight, QC, asked if Gibson established a tender board to “ensure transparency and fairness” in the award of the contracts.

Thompson confirmed this was the case.

Knight said, “Gibson made it clear that chaos existed in the system and needed to be regularized.”

Thompson agreed and added that Gibson had issued a stop order for the work until the protocols were put in place.

Knight suggested that some contractors lost a lot of money due to the changes Gibson implemented.

Thompson agreed.

Also testifying was Sergeant 1492 Dale Strachan who said he extracted WhatsApp text and voice messages between Gibson and Ash.

The messages were removed from a Samsung S7 provided by Ash, Strachan testified.

He said the conversations were downloaded to a compact disc and printed on a 116-page document, the court heard.

Strachan also said he downloaded Gibson’s suspect interview to two compact discs.

He said it was mandatory for suspects to be questioned in an interview suite that was equipped with recording equipment than ran nonstop.

Damian Gomez, QC, asked Strachan if Ash and Bastian were interviewed in the same room.

Strachan said this question would best be answered by the investigator, adding that witness statements were not necessarily taken in this room.

The trial continues on Monday.

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Artesia Davis

Artesia primarily covers court stories, but she also writes extensively about crime.

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