Ex-chief secretary’s clerk accused of stealing $50k

| 12/07/2016 | 0 Comments
Cayman News Service

Cayman Islands courthouse, George Town

(CNS): A local woman who worked in what was the chief secretary’s office has been accused of stealing $50,000 from government over a two-year period from the fees she had collected from naturalization applicants. As crown counsel Toyin Salako opened the case Tuesday against Atisa Ebanks for theft and false accounting, she said Ebanks had taken advantage of a flawed system to steal public cash. The prosecutor told the jury that the former civil servant began taking cash and falsifying receipts to conceal her crime in November 2006 but the theft wasn’t discovered until October 2008, when an individual turned up for the pledging ceremony without a receipt.

When staff checked the system, there was no record that the women had paid her $500 fee to naturalize (paving the way for an application for a British Overseas Territories Citizen passport based on being Caymanian) and as a result she was unable to take part in the pledge. But when the woman returned to the Glass House (the government administration building at the time) with the falsified receipt, Ebanks’ crimes began to unravel.

“Atisha Ebansks’ crimes went undetected for such a long period because the system in place at the time to collect revenue was such that there were few checks and balances,” said Salako, as she outlined the prosecution’s case. “It was that deficiency that she took advantage of.”

When the applicants came to the ceremony, the receipts were not usually cross checked with the system. This enabled Ebanks, who was one of three staff members in the chief secretary’s office at the time dealing with the naturalization process, to steal consistently over a sustained period.

The crown claims that, in total, Ebanks took the cash payments that were made by at least 100 applicants and then made false receipt numbers using manual rather than the official printed receipts, despite knowing that she was not allowed to use the hand written receipt book for naturalization fees.

But the alarmed was raised with the discovery that Ebanks had been using the book to issue receipts to applicants and only registering those who paid by cheque and not cash. The crown said the only legitimate explanation for Ebanks not entering the cash payments and applications in the system was because she was stealing the money.

An internal forensic audit was triggered following the discovery and at least 100 irregularities were detected surrounding applicants who had paid cash. The prosecution claims that the cash payments were paid directly to Ebanks, who issued a hand written receipt and took the money.

In March 2009 she was placed on required leave before she resigned in December 2009. The police began investigating the case in 2011 but Ebanks denied doing anything dishonest, blaming problems with the system.

Salako said that the crown witnesses who knew or had described Ebanks would give evidence that they gave cash to her. Others have produced their written cash receipts signed by Ebanks, and others have stamped letters saying “Paid”, which were initialed by Ebanks.

The jury trial is expected to last two weeks and is being presided over by visiting judge Justice MacDonald-Bishop.

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Category: Courts, Crime

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