A 26-year-old Sion Hill woman concocted a story about sexually transmitted diseases, a doctor, a lawyer, and a court case to fool one of her friends into sending her $24.669.55 from the United States.
For her crime, Chanesta Brazel, who is originally of Old Montrose, was jailed for one year and five months — seven months less than the statutory maximum, despite her guilty plea and the fact that she is a first-time offender.
Chief Magistrate Rechanne Browne handed down the sentence at the Serious Offences Court, on Wednesday, in a hearing that seemed to have left the court, as well as the gallery baffled by Brazel’s action.
Brazel’s scam involved her sending “vitamins” to the complainant in the United States, purportedly from a doctor in St. Vincent as treatment for “STDs”, and fooling the victim into making a video for a fictitious court case.
At the same time, she created fake accounts on Facebook, which she used to communicate separately with her victim and her ex-boyfriend, creating acrimony among them so that they would not communicate with each other and unravel the plot.
In a further attempt to hide her crime, Brazel told her victim that the court had ordered that she stay 100 yards away from the doctor’s office and away from her boyfriend.
And, even as detectives had her in custody, Brazel flushed down the toilet three of the Western Union receipts that proved that her victim had transferred thousands of dollars to her.
The virtual complainant, a 49-year-old mother of four, and grandmother of three, whose name we are withholding so as to give the details of the case in light of the sensitive false allegations against her, cried in court as she listened to the proceedings.
When given the chance to speak, the woman told the court how Brazel’s actions had left her paranoids and broke, even as she literally worked herself almost to the point of collapse in the United States, and sent her money back to fulfill a purported court court order that Brazel had falsely said had been made against her.
Brazel pleaded guilty to a charge that between Dec. 22, 2021 and May 29, 2022, at Kingstown, she dishonestly obtained EC$24,669.55 from the virtual complainant, with the intention of permanently depriving her of it.
Money needed for ‘STDs treatment’
The facts, as read by prosecutor Corporal 817 Stapleton, are that the complainant and Brazel are good friends who became close because the complainant’s ex-boyfriend is related to Brazel.
On Dec. 22, 2021, the complainant left St. Vincent for vacation in the United States and worked as a housekeeper during that time.
At this point, Station Sergeant of Police Renrick Cato, a prosecutor, asked the court to guide the media as the facts contain sensitive information of false statements about people.
The chief magistrate urged the media to ensure “your very great professional discretion” when publishing the information from the case.
Stapleton continued, telling the court that while the complainant was abroad, she maintained communication with Brazel via WhatsApp and other social media.
In one of those conversations, Brazel told the complainant that the complainant’s ex-boyfriend ha told her that he had gone to a doctor, having tested positive for various sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
The defendant told the complainant that a particular doctor is a personal friend and she would talk to the doctor so that the complainant could get “treatment” privately.
Brazel assured the complainant that she would give the complainant’s number to the doctor who would contact her at a later date.
Sometime later, Brazel contacted the complainant via WhatsApp on a strange number and identified herself as the doctor Brazel had mentioned.
The “doctor” told the complainant that her ex-boyfriend had come to the “doctor’s” officer and stated that the complainant had infected him with STDs and he was, therefore, going to sue her.
The complainant told Brazel what the “doctor” had told her and Brazel informed her that she knew someone who would throw out the case and requested EC$200 to do so.
The complainant complied then sent Brazel $4,000 that she had requested, saying it was to pay for medication.
During the four months thereafter, the complainant, who was still in the United States, sent money to Brazel via Western Union.
During their conversations, the “doctor” told the complainant that her ex-boyfriend had sued the two of them (the complainant and the “doctor”) and the complainant had to get a lawyer to represent them both.
The complainant then went back to Brazel with this information and Brazel told the complainant that she contacted a prominent local lawyer to represent them and the counsel had charged EC$2,500.
The complainant again sent this money to the defendant via Western Union.
Brazel later informed the complainant that the court had fined her EC$2,000 because she had lost the first three hearings.
The complainant did not hesitate to send the money, as she wanted no problems with the law.
Brazel then informed the complainant that the magistrate had ordered her (the complainant) not to have any form of contact with her ex-boyfriend and that she was to stay 100 yards from the doctor’s office.
“So the doctor wasn’t sued too? What kind of chaos is this?” the chief magistrate interjected.
Stapleton, continuing with the facts, told the court that over the course of five months, the complainant sent Brazel $25,669 via Western Union and other family members.
The complainant became suspicious of Brazel and decided to return to St. Vincent to find out what was going on.
On April 4, 2022, about 10 a.m., the complainant went to the office of the doctor who Brazel had mentioned and who had purportedly contacted her via WhatsApp.
The doctor informed the complainant that she was not one of the doctor’s patients and that the doctor does not usually see men without their partners present.
As a result, the complainant realised that Brazel had been deceiving her and she went to the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) and reported the matter.
Detective Corporal 296 Davis entertained the report and recorded a statement and carried out investigations into the matter.
On June 7, 2022, about 11:30 a.m., Davis contacted Brazel via telephone and invited her to CID.
He cautioned and interviewed Brazel in the presence of Justice of the Peace Errol Hazel.
Brazel volunteered a statement denying the allegation. She was later arrested and charged.
Defendant: ‘I am very sorry for what I did’
In mitigation, Brazel told the court it was the first time that she was involved in such an act, or was even inside a courtroom.
“And I am pleading on the mercies of the court and I am very sorry for what I did,” she said.
“I know it is not right but I have learnt from may mistake and I promise to be a much better person because I have learnt from what has happened and I have apologised to [the complainant] and I will continue to be apologising to her and every one that I hurt during the process of everything,” Brazel told the court.
Defendant destroys evidence at police station
In his submissions on sentencing, Cato noted that none of the money was recovered.
He said that it was not mentioned in the facts, but at CID, the Western Union receipts were there when Davis was recording the facts.
Cato said that Brazel asked to use the bathroom and took three of the receipts, tore them up and flushed them down the toilet.
On hearing this, the defendant interjected:
“Like I said, I have never been in the court or police station or anything. I was nervous, I was scared and that is the first thing that came to mind.”
“Where is the money?” the chief magistrate asked Brazel.
“I have some medical issues,” she told the court.
“So you put your medical issues on your friend and her boyfriend and a whole elaborate story,” Browne said, adding that Brazel had clearly preyed on the complainant’s naivety.
“Hearing this, for a trained person aware of how [this type of medical specialist works], I guess, it is such a tale. It makes no sense.
“So you clearly preyed on the naivety of your friend. Because you tell me this or somebody, they will look at you and say, ‘Where you going with this?’ ‘What you trying?’
‘This deserves a custodial sentence’
The chief magistrate said that Brazel was putting the names of people into disrepute.
“And worse, you know somebody who can throw out the case?” Browne said and asked how that works.
She said that in that statement, Brazel was implying that the court clerks, police, prosecutor, or a magistrate would do so.
“You have brought the whole justice system into disrepute with your falsehood,” Browne said.
Cato said that when Brazel told her victim that the court had made an order for the victim to stay away from the doctor, it was well planned for the victims not to go to the doctor’s office and uncover the deception.
“So the victim actually breached that ‘order’ that was made by her (the defendant),” Cato said, noting that the “order” also said that the complainant was to stay away from her ex-boyfriend.
The prosecutor said that, unfortunately, deception carries a maximum sentence of two years imprisonment at the summary level.
He noted that Brazel had pleaded guilty at the first opportunity and had no previous conviction, adding that based on the serious nature of the offence and the facts and circumstances, a custodial sentence was in order.
“… for someone to sit and planned an offence like that and to include the names of persons she called and to take advantage of a woman who just sent money, the defendant took advantage of this lady by making all forms of excuses as to how she can get money from her,” Cato said.
“This deserves a custodial sentence. It is like the defendant was getting a salary and it is a $4,000 salary. How can you take advantage of someone like that?”
Cato said that Brazel had breached the trust that the complainant had in her.
“She deceived her and if it wasn’t for that last statement that she made and the complainant became suspicious, up to this time she might have been receiving money from the complainant.
“It is a serious, serious offence and we ought to send a very strong message to persons who believe that they can keep on deceiving people to get money from them for their own personal use,” Cato said.
He said that added to everything that Brazel had done, she sent medication to the complainant.
“That could have killed her because it was the wrong medication,” the chief magistrate commented.
However, Brazel said she had sent vitamins to the complainant.
“It was vitamins? For ‘STDs’?” Browne responded.
Cato told the court that the complainant could sue Brazel for compensation, and reiterated that he believes that a custodial sentence is fitting.
‘I feel hurt…’
In her submissions to the court, the complainant said that she has known Brazel for a while, but they got close between October and November last year, as she was dating one of Brazel’s relatives.
She said she blocked her ex-boyfriend from communicating with her after Brazel’s information about him having STDs.
The complainant said that after finding out about Brazel’s deception, she unblocked her ex-boyfriend, who was left in tears when he learnt of Brazel’s elaborate scam.
Brazel had told the complainant that her boyfriend had a different girlfriend. Brazel used one Facebook account to message the complainant, telling her things about her ex-boyfriend, and another to tell the complainant’s ex-boyfriend things about the complainant.
“I feel hurt because I went to the States and I was doing housekeeping,” the complainant said, telling the court that she had to put her two cheques together to come up with the money that Brazel deceived her into sending to her.
She said she worked for $10 an hour, during which time she had to clean two rooms.
“I would love to get back my money from her. I worked hard for it. If she had asked me for anything I would have sent it to her,” the complainant told the court.
“I have all the messages on my phone. I came to St. Vincent with US$100 in my purse — all the work I worked.”
The complainant said that Brazel wrote to her, telling her that because she worked illegally in the United States, they had reflagged her name.
The complainant said she became suspicious when, in April, Brazel wrote to her saying that the court had ordered that she make a payment by April 30.
She said she asked Brazel to ask the court to give her until May 3 when she gets paid, and Brazel said she would.
However, on May 3, the complainant’s paycheque did not arrive on time, and Brazel messaged her saying that the court had said that it will not give her any more time and would have the US authorities deport her if she did not make the payment.
The chief magistrate, apparently having heard or seen something from Brazel, asked her in a stern voice if she was saying that the complainant was lying.
Brazel told the court that she had told the complainant this.
The complainant said that when she got paid, she sent the money and was left with $8 on her card.
She said she then called a friend who told her that the court system doesn’t work like that, he having interacted with the system on a number of occasions.
The complainant said she sent someone to the court office, which said there was no suit involving any of the parties that Brazel had claimed.
She said that she called Brazel again who continued with the attempt to deceive her.
‘I feel ashamed and embarrassed’
The complainant said that Brazel had told her that the court needed a video and that a lawyer would message her.
Brazel messaged the complaint pretending to be the lawyer and instructed her to make a video stating her name, age, date of birth, and telling her that the information requested is for the court and she is free to call names.
The complainant said she called names of people who she had been tricked into believing had been messaging her on the fake account.
“I even cried on that video, never to know all these things are fake. I feel ashamed and embarrassed.”
The chief magistrate told Brazel that she was probably laughing at the complainant “doing all these gymnastics”.
“What could you have been thinking? This is your friend and you are telling her all these things…”
‘Doctor’ gets ‘vision’ of impending blindness
The complainant said that after she returned to St. Vincent she went to the doctor and inquired and the doctor told her that she is not one of her patients and the doctor was not sending any medication to her in the United States.
The complainant said that Brazel did not know that she had gone to the doctor and continued messaging her.
On one occasion, she sent a message saying, “I am Dr. (name committed) trying to get on to you with your medication.”
Brazel, pretending to be the doctor, told the complainant that she needed to pay $850 for medication for her eyes, without which medication she would go blind in one month.
Brazil told the complainant that the doctor had gotten a vision with doves over the complainant’s eyes, hence the “prescription” for her eyes.
“When did you intend to stop?” the chief magistrate told Brazel.
The complainant said that in addition to the money she sent from the United States, she had asked her ex-boyfriend to give Brazel $4,000, which she is yet to repay.
Brazel offers to take loan to repay
Brazel told the court that she had $2,000 plus in the bank but had just gotten a job and could borrow a loan to repay the money.
“And my boyfriend…” Brazel was saying, when the chief magistrate said, “You still have a boyfriend?”
The chief magistrate was told that Brazel’s boyfriend was in court. Brazel’s boyfriend remained in court until the end of the sentence and left after, carrying what appeared to be her Brazel’s handbag.
Browne told Brazel that she had to consider her sentence carefully “because the circumstances are terrible.
“I can’t imagine having a friend and a friend doing that to me — and a friend who is family. I can’t imagine the possibilities as to what could have caused that,” the chief magistrate said.
She then conducted the traffic court and suspended then sitting for over an hour to determine the sentence.
In considering the consequences of the offence, Browne mentioned:
1. The high level of inconvenience caused to the victim, who had to leave the US to return to St. Vincent to verify information after she became suspicious about her own friend.
2. The scale of financial harm to the victim was quite noteworthy. She borrowed from others to pay demanded sums while working to the ground. Sometimes she almost fell down after mopping all day — to the detriment of herself. She didn’t even have enough money to buy food. This while being in a foreign country with limited resources after paying a purported sum necessary for some fictitious episode. When she returned to SVG, all she had to her name was US$100 (EC$267).
3. The emotional distress caused. In the courtroom, the victim was seen to be visibly distraught; “crying, no doubt, because of worry, confusion and anxiety caused; loss of confidence and trust in her friend. You were her friend. What kind of friend does that? Makes you not want to have any.”
4. Overall serious psychological harm caused. “This could make anyone paranoid and looking at the demeanour of the victims, she looks paranoid and frantic.”
After assessing these elements, the court found that the consequence was category 2 — medium.
The chief magistrate, in assessing the seriousness of offence, found the following elements.
1. Abuse of trust
2. A high degree of planning.
3. Brazel was motivated by the expectation of substantial financial gain. The magistrate noted that the sums before the court did not include the Western Union transfer fees.
4. This offending was conducted over a sustained period of time. “This wasn’t no one-off show. This continued for months.”
5. Brazel preyed on the vulnerability, naivety, ignorance and fears of the victim. “Being her close friend, I am certain what came out is what she is paranoid about or afraid of and you used those to manipulate the whole situation you created.”
Browne said these elements put the crime in the highest category, and began the sentence with a starting point of 60% of the maximum.
The aggravating features of the offence are:
1. Steps were taken to dispose of evidence. At CID, Brazel took receipts and flushed them down the toilet.
2. The offence was motivated by greed
3. Brazel took tedious steps to prevent the victim from reporting the matter or obtaining assistance. She told the victim of a purported court order preventing her from going within 100 yards of the doctor’s office, knowing that if the victim had gone there, it would have revealed the whole plot
4. Brazel sent and created messages to the victim’s ex-boyfriend so that there would be friction and suspicion and no communication between them to verify the truth of the matter. “A high level of planning.”
The court said there were absolutely no mitigating factors and added nine months to the sentence, bringing it to one year and 11 months.
Aggravating for the offender was the fact that she exhibited “absolutely no genuine remorse.
“She said,’ I told her I am sorry’,” the chief magistrate said, adding that there was no emotion and even after saying she was sorry, Brazel attempted to dispose of evidence at CID.
Mitigating on Brazel’s behalf was the fact that she had no previous convictions.
The court concluded that the mitigating and aggravating features balanced each other out.
Browne said that with all the factors taken into consideration, the court must send a message that actions of this nature are not to be tolerated or conceived and people so inclined would be immediately deterred.
“This is not how a friend deals with a friend,” she said and informed Brazel of her right to appeal and that the sentence does not affect any other legal recourse that the complainant may wish to take against her.
The court confiscated a nebuliser that the prosecution said Brazel had bought with the money