(CNS): Prosecutors say Paul Anthony Hume Ebanks, who is accused of stealing over $167,000 from around two dozen people over a three-year period, told his alleged victims that he was working for former premier McKeeva Bush, former MLA Cline Glidden and Deputy Governor Franz Manderson when he conned them out of $2,000 per person in exchange for grants of permanent residency or Caymanian Status that were never forthcoming. As crown counsel Toyin Salako opened the case against Ebanks Wednesday, she told the jury that he falsely used the names of the government officials to better convince them to part with their cash.
Ebanks also recruited people he knew to help him with the false promise of a future commission, the court heard.
The prosecution believes the scam began in July 2012, when Ebanks bumped into an old school friend who unwittingly agreed to help him by collecting money from her friends and family who were not Caymanians, including her own partner.
Giving evidence on behalf of the crown, Siri Russell said Ebanks told her that he had been asked by Cline Glidden, a member of the UDP administration at the time, and then premier McKeeva Bush to find 100 people who were suitable to get status to help boost votes ahead of the 2013 election.
Russel told the jury that Ebanks had convinced her that the scheme was genuine because he appeared to make and take calls from Bush and Glidden in front of her in which he talked about the issue. He said he was very close with Glidden, who was a godfather to his son, and despite her doubts, he continued to reassure her that the scheme, although unofficial, was genuine because the status grants would come from Cabinet in the same way that they had in 2003.
As a result, she unwittingly took money from her friends and family, which she passed on to Ebanks, but she said she never received any commission, as promised, and none of the people she had taken cash from were ever given Caymanian status.
Setting out the details of the whole case and the list of around 25 victims and their families, Salako said that when the UDP lost the election, the scam had continued but Ebanks began citing Franz Manderson as the source of the grants and convinced people by pretending to make and take calls from him, using the same tactic of telling people that Manderson was godfather to his son to convince them that he was genuine.
The prosecutor told the jury there was no such scheme and that Bush, Glidden and Manderson were not involved in the con, which she said was perpetrated by Ebanks alone. She said he recruited more helpers and conned random people he encountered anywhere at any time, including complete strangers he had given a ride to, and even brought the issue up with a local church congregation. Ebanks also used false names, such as Paul Bodden and John Bodden, the prosecutor said.
The crown said that Ebanks took differing amounts from different people, ranging from $2,000 taken from one individual for one application to $26,300 that he took from a friend of his own girlfriend who wanted to get status for her whole family.
In most of the cases, the crown said, the victims were told by Ebanks or his unwitting accomplices that they were looking for suitable applicants who had been in Cayman for more than four years, had no problems with the immigration department, a clean police record, and that they had to pay in cash upfront. Salako also told the jury that with one exception, the applicants were not given receipts.
When any of them began to query the scheme or ask questions, he would reassure them or tell them that Cabinet had made the grant and it was only a matter of time before they would be called in to get their passport stamps. On some occasions he took their passports, making them believe he was getting the grants sorted.
When others made enquiries, he even gave them an appointment to attend at immigration, but on each occasion he would cancel it before the date arrived. On one occasion he even told a victim to call Franz Manderson directly to ask what the delay was.
Salako told the jury that Ebanks had played on people’s desperation to stay in Cayman and used that vulnerability to con them out of the money. She said that when the scam began to unravel, he began giving some refunds but only $30,000 was ever given back. The rest has never been recovered, she said, and the crown has no evidence indicating what Ebanks did with the cash he had taken.
When the police were informed and began an investigation, Ebanks told a number of different stories to the detectives, the crown prosecutor sai.
He did, however, stick to his position that it was McKeeva Bush and Cline Glidden who had asked him to find the quota of appropriate applicants to be given status ahead of the elections to enable them to vote, and that he had given the cash he had taken to Bush.
He denied some of the counts completely and said some of the people alleging he had conned them had given him money for completely different reasons relating to work contracts or a ‘numbers’ business. Ebanks also told the police that when Bush failed to win the election, he realised that he would not be able to make the grants but he had continued to take money, using that to pay back others.
Ebanks, who is represented by Laurence Aiolfi from Samson and McGrath, has pleaded not guilty to all 26 counts of obtaining property by deception as well as one count of stealing a passport, and stands by his position that he was working on behalf of Bush.
The trial is scheduled to last around four weeks because as many as fifty witnesses could be called. It is being presided over by visiting judge, Justice Michael Wood. The jury of five women and two men were selected following a court survey, agreed by the crown and defence, asking them about their knowledge of the government officials involved and issues surrounding the 2003 status grants.