Board secretary accused of false permit grants

| 05/01/2015 | 0 Comments

(CNS): A former work permit board secretary went on trial Monday in the Grand Court, accused of changing the immigration department’s database to grant unauthorized work permits that had not been approved by the relevant board. Tichina Rickfield has denied 16 counts of altering documents and misconduct in public office in relation to discrepancies that emerged five years ago.

The crown claims that Rickfield, who was acting as the secretary to the work permit board at the time, altered documents and manipulated immigration’s internal computer system to override board decisions in 15 work permit applications over a twelve month period between January 2009 and January 2010.

Opening the case on behalf of the director of public prosecutions, Toyin Salako said the discrepancies were too frequent to be mere mistakes and the defendant had deliberately altered the database to show that permits had been granted, when in reality they had been refused or deferred. This alteration of the board’s decisions triggered letters granting approvals instead of the refusal or deferral letter that should have been sent and led to unauthorized permits being given to foreign workers.

Salako made no mention what may have motivated Rickfield to make 15 random work permit changes from the many thousands dealt with over that twelve month period, nor did the crown offer any links between the defendant and the applicants in the cases which were changed. The crown’s lawyer said, however, that while some of the employers and employees involved in the permit applications were spoken to by the police, none would be giving evidence. The prosecutor stated that all of those concerned denied knowing or speaking to Rickfield regarding the applications, while others had left the islands.

Rickfield, who was previously known as Sunshine McLaughlin before she legally changed her name, was one of only a handful of immigration staff members who had access to the database and who were responsible for setting the agendas for the meetings and accurately entering the work permit boards’ decisions on those permits to be considered.

The court heard that the decisions regarding each permit on the agenda at any given meeting would be recorded and entered into the computer during the board meeting’s proceedings.  Later, the letters would be dispatched to those concerned regarding the outcome. The work permit board was reviewing as many as 100 permits at each of its twice weekly meetings at the time, meaning that Rickfield and other administration staff were entering the outcome of thousands of permit decisions over the course of a year.

The court heard that when the board chair raised concerns about inaccuracies regarding some of the minutes taken by Rickfield, questions were asked of her by management. However, she told her line manager that with a new board there may have been some misunderstandings about how things worked. As a result, she was given the benefit of the doubt in the first instance. But when concerns were raised again and questions asked about permits being granted that had not been approved by the board, a decision was made to conduct an audit.

When the discrepancies in Rickfield’s entries into the system were discovered, she was suspended from her job in January 2010 and a wider audit conducted. Eventually some 15 discrepancies in the data entered by Rickfield were found, along with a further three discrepancies attributed to two other staff members.

The defendant was interviewed by immigration management and offered reasons for the discrepancies in writing, indicating a number of different possible scenarios. Then a long and protracted investigation took place by both immigration and the police before Rickfield was eventually charged late in 2012 with making false documents without authorization and misconduct in public office.

Salako told the jury that the crown would rely on documents in the case to show that decisions entered into the system during the work permit board meetings were deliberately altered by Rickfield after those meetings were adjourned.

The crown counsel said that Rickfield, in her position as the secretary to the board at the time, had a duty to the public to properly report the outcomes of the board meetings and a duty to ensure that decisions were recorded accurately. But the number of discrepancies went beyond errors and reflected a deliberate act to change the outcome of work permit applications and render the board’s decisions meaningless. This, the lawyer said, amounted to an abuse of the public trust placed in the defendant. Salako claimed Rickfield’s actions by-passed the board and led to grants or extensions of permits which had not been approved by those authorized in law to make such decisions.

The prosecutor told the jury, as she made her opening address, that there was no dispute in the case that there were discrepancies between the board’s decisions recorded in the minutes and the changes made after the fact. But, she said, the question for the jury was whether these were deliberate changes made by Rickfield or some other error in the immigration system that resulted in the database changes and ultimately the unauthorized permits.

Following her opening statement, Salako called the crown’s first witness, Chief Immigration Officer Linda Evans, who has also recently been suspended from the top job at the department along with the current director of boards in relation to unspecified allegations regarding abuse of office.

Rickfield, who is represented by Fiona Robertson from Samson and McGrath, has denied all counts against her and the trial continues tomorrow with evidence from Evans in Grand Court One before Justice Charles Quin.

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Category: Courts, Crime

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