Senior Magistrate Rickie Burnett, on Friday, the last day of his 39-year career as a public servant, jailed a 40-year-old public servant for stealing EC$154,300 from the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (GoSVG).
Burnett handed down three consecutive sentences amounting to one year and nine months on Mitra-Ann Prescott, of Harmony Hall, after finding her guilty of charges that:
After the sentencing, Prescott’s lawyer, Israel Bruce, informed the court that his client intends to appeal.
Prescott was still awaiting transportation to prison at 6:38 p.m. as Burnett left his office after his last sitting as a magistrate.
The magistrate’s verdict might have caught the defence by surprise, having come at the end of a trial, which lasted over a year, in which the prosecution appeared to struggle to present concrete evidence against Prescott.
She was made to mount her defence in January when the court overruled a no-case submission — a ruling which had appeared to have surprised the prosecution.
Also in January, the prosecution withdrew three official corruption charges against Prescott in connection with the theft of the money.
The trial exposed loopholes in government’s procurement system at the time of Prescott’s crimes.
An example of this was when Accountant General Debbie Antoine testifying that a person who collects a cheque for a payment that might have been fraudulently entered into the system by that said person would not be violating any government policy in collecting that cheque, as long as the person presents the requisite documents for collection of the cheque.
Further, the court heard that up to 2019, the Royal St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force had no way of proving that items ordered were actually delivered.
Additionally, a key witness for the prosecution testified that he lied to the police and during his testimony during the trial.
In handing down his verdict on Friday, Burnett noted that the prosecution’s case was based on circumstantial evidence.
The magistrate cited a case in which the court held that “circumstantial evidence is very often the best. It is evidence of surrounding circumstances which, by undesigned coincidence, is capable of proving a proposition with the accuracy of mathematics. It is no derogation of evidence to say that it is circumstantial.”
After hearing Bruce’s plea in mitigation and sentencing submissions from the prosecutor, Crown Counsel Rose-Ann Richardson, the magistrate adjourned the sentencing for four hours until 5 p.m. Friday.
In handing down his sentence, Burnett noted that Prescott, a public servant of 13 years, was employed in the Public Service as a junior clerk attached to Police Headquarters — where she committed her crimes.
He noted that the Criminal Code prescribes a maximum penalty of two years on each count of the offence.
The magistrate pointed out that Bruce, in mitigation, had submitted that Prescott is 40 years old and it is her first conviction. The lawyer had further said that she has no children and takes care of her mother, a retiree.
Bruce had urged the court to follow the sentencing guidelines. He further submitted that the court should not impose a custodial sentence but should consider compensation to put the state back in the position it was before the theft.
He asked that if the court considered a custodial sentence, that it be suspended.
Meanwhile, in her submissions on sentencing, Crown Counsel Rose-Ann Richardson contended that a suspended sentence would send the wrong message and would set a bad precedent.
Burnett said that in assessing the seriousness of the offence, the court considered the breach of trust and the amount of money that was stolen.
He said an aggravating feature of the offence was that Prescott has attempted to blame others wrongfully.
The court, however, noted that she was of good character as she had no previous conviction.
Burnett imposed a sentence of one year for the theft of EC$87,400 – the maximum sentence being two years.
He further jailed her for seven months for theft of EC$60,400 and two months for theft of EC$6,500.
Burnett said that the court considered the overall sentence in keeping with the totality principle and would impose a sentence that reflects the total criminality.
He said that the court considered that the maximum penalty is six years.
“However, the cumulative sentence passed for these offences is just about one year and nine months,” Burnett said.
He said that considering that the offences occurred over different periods of time and frequency, the sentences will run consecutively.
I agree with the ptosecution position thst having convicted of the crime of embezzlement of funds, a suspended sentence would set a bad precedence.
This is why this sort of stuff will continue to go in in SVG, the sentence is a slap on the wrist for the amount of funds she stole, she should be made to pay that money back, people stealing from their employer is a big problem in SVG.
Very good job Mr burnette…
Sticky hands, kleptomania.
Stealiñg fròm the employer is a probem but predial lacenry is worse because it affects the vulnerable and those who can least afford it.
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