Published On: Sun, May 9th, 2021

Former branch manager courthouse gets 27 months for embezzlement

PHILIPSBURG — The Court in First Instance sentenced the former branch manager of the courthouse in Philipsburg, Maritsa James-Christina (63) to 27 months in prison for embezzling more than $1.1 million from the court and for forgery. She also has to pay the Constitutional Court 50,000 guilders. Her husband Reginald James (67) was sentenced to 240 hours of community service for money laundering.

The prosecution charged James-Christina with the embezzlement of $1,153,770 from the Common Court of Justice (later adjusted to $921,475) and another 153,679 guilders ($85,850) from the Constitutional Court between January 1, 2014, and December 31, 2017 (the court acquitted the defendant of this charge). She was also charged with laundering these amounts and with forging three transfer forms of the Windward Islands Bank in September 2016. In June 2018, she demanded a payment of 50,000 guilders from the Justice Ministry for the Constitutional Court, while the ministry was not obliged to make that payment.

The court examined the facts of the case during five different sessions – on June 26, 2019, July 5, 2019, October 22, 2019, November 13, 2020, and April 16, 2021. James-Christina consistently denied any wrongdoing.

The Public Prosecutor asked the court for a prison sentence of 36 months and the order to repay 50,000 guilders to the Constitutional Court.

The court swept aside all arguments of James-Christina’s attorney Zylena Bary. The attorney asked the court to declare the prosecution inadmissible, charging that the prosecution had violated the law with its decision to prosecute her client. Bary also said that the arrest of her client on September 7, 2018, was unlawful.

James-Christina was that day arrested at the RBC bank after she had presented herself there earlier as a representative of the court and had attempted to reopen a bank account. However, the court noted, the defendant’s contract had ended already in June 2018 and she was no longer authorized to represent the court. The court ruled that the arrest was justified and lawful.

The suspicions of embezzlement against James-Christina came to light after the vice-president of the court at the time, Judge Katja Mans, discovered irregularities with the third-party account. The court established that the cleaner of the courthouse and a messenger of a law office had cashed the checks and handed over the cash to the defendant. If she was not there, they left the money on her desk.

There were 38 withdrawals from the third-party dollar account for $5,500 each time between 2014 and 2017. Between 2002 and 2011 there were 43 withdrawals from the third party guilders account for 5,500 guilders and another 23 checks for $5,500 from the dollar account.

James-Christina told the court in June 2019 that the amounts of $5,500 and 5,500 guilders had to be paid to a third person at the orders of the late Judge de Lannoy because of a burglary at the courthouse in 2007. She claimed to have given the money to a bailiff and later to someone else whose name she did not know. The court did not believe this story, also because she had given the president of the court a different explanation for these payments.

In 2011 the public prosecutor confiscated $1,333,660 during the Bientu-investigation against lottery boss Robbie dos Santos. This money was parked on the third-party dollar account. When the chief prosecutor asked on September 2, 2016, to transfer this money to the account of the office of the attorney-general, the balance on the third-party account was just $671,240 – a shortfall of around $460,000.

James-Christina did not report this situation to her superiors. Instead, she used money from another account at the court to make the transfer. “This behavior fits seamlessly with someone who has embezzled money and had to use different funds to hide this,” the court ruling states.

On July 26, 2017, the country deposited 50,000 guilders in the account of the Constitutional Court at the RBC bank. Between July 27 and August 22, the messenger of a law office cashed all this money with eight different checks. The court ruled that James-Christina had used this money “for other purposes than for what it was intended.”

The court found furthermore proof that James-Christina had forged three transfer forms of the Windward Islands Bank. These forgeries facilitated the transfer of funds to the account of the office of the attorney-general from the court’s guilders account, a move designed to hide that this money had disappeared from the third-party dollar account.

On June 15, 2018, James-Christina asked the minister of Justice for a payment of 50,000 guilders into the account of the Constitutional Court, falsely claiming that in 2017 such a payment had not been made. The ministry paid this amount already on July 26, 2017, but it nevertheless honored the request for a second payment.

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