A Customs officer who admitted to stealing EC$67,579.35 in cash and the cheques amounting to EC$77,223.84 from the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines has been spared an immediate jail term.
Today (Wednesday) at the Kingstown Magistrate’s Court, Magistrate John Ballah ordered Gibron Bailey, 39, to repay EC$67,579.35 within six months or spend six months in prison.
Further, the court handed down sentences ranging from two months to five months in prison on each of the 10 theft charges.
The sentences were suspended for one year, meaning that Bailey would only go to prison on those charges if he commits another crime over the next year.
The EC$77,223.84 in cheques were handed over to the court during Wednesday’s hearing.
Bailey had initially pleaded not guilty when he was arraigned before Ballah on Monday.
His lawyer, Grant Connell, asked for an adjournment and hinted that Bailey would change his pleas at the next hearing.
Today, Bailey pleaded guilty to the charges after the prosecutor, acting Corporal of Police Shamrack Pierre, amended the amount on the cheques, to reflect a further EC$2041.76 that had been stolen.
The facts, as presented by Pierre, are that Bailey is a Customs officer and driver based at Argyle International Airport (AIA).
His duties entailed taking workers home at the end of their shifts and escorting the cashier at the air cargo section to the Bank of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (BoSVG) in Kingstown on evenings to deposit cash and cheques at the bank.
On some occasions, Bailey would do that deposit by himself. He would also collect the night deposit key from the Customs Department in Kingstown and the next day he would collect the other night deposit bag from the bank.
On several occasions, he did not return the key to the cash manager.
The night deposit bag would be returned to the assistant supervisor at the air cargo section at the airport.
On the dates on which Bailey committed the offence — ranging from Aug. 31 to Sept. 21, 2023 — he was the driver and was tasked with making the night deposit to the bank.
Bailey was in possession of one of the deposit bag keys and on those occasions, he did not make the deposits.
Over that period, he stole EC$67,579.35 in cash and the cheques amounting to EC$77,223.84.
As a result, some irregularities were noted in the records at the Customs and Excise Department and the BoSVG was informed.
The record shown by the bank revealed that no deposits were made on dates in question and the matter was brought to the attention of the Director of Finance who reported it to the police.
Detective Sergeant 643 Quow, attached to the Major Crime Unit, conducted an investigation, which led to the Bailey, who was taken into custody.
Police executed a search warrant at Bailey’s home, where nothing was found in respect of the cash or cheques.
Police, however, found several documents in respect of deposits made at BoSVG.
Quow kept the documents as part of his investigation and Bailey was taken back to the Criminal Investigation Department, where Quow conducted an electronic interview in the presence of Justice of the Peace Kenneth John, a retired superintendent of police.
Bailey admitted his wrongdoing and also stated that a family member has stage 3 cancer and that is why he stole the money.
Pierre told the court that the cheques were handed over to Connell and the prosecution was now in possession of them.
In mitigation, Connell told the court that his client has two children, aged 11 and 8 and is his family’s main breadwinner.
He said that Bailey pleaded guilty at the first opportunity to do so.
“At an early opportunity,” Ballah comments, referring to the fact that Bailey had pleaded not guilty when he was arraigned on Monday.
Connell said his client had no previous conviction and had expressed extreme remorse.
He said Bailey was arrested on Wednesday and remained in the same clothes, bare feet in the cell on the Friday and then the police brought the justice of the peace.
The lawyer raised concerns about the conduct of the JP during the interview, saying that John did not inquire about whether the police had acted in accordance with Bailey’s rights.
He said the police charged Bailey and it seemed that their investigation ended, even before they had recovered the cheques.
“So, when I asked for the adjournment, I was acting on instruction. The man who stands before you has certain qualities that are at variance of any hardened criminal,” the lawyer said.
Connell said he had prepared a spreadsheet that showed that thousands of dollars were still missing, despite the amendment to the charges.
The lawyer took the court to the sentencing guidelines, noting that the maximum sentence for his client’s crime was two years imprisonment.
“Theft is two years; [possession of] cannabis is 7. One causes the coffers to haemorrhage financially, the other causes the society to heal,” he said.
He said that in handing over the cheques, his clients had averted an “accounting frenzy” where the government would have been at the mercy of companies to get new cheques to replace the ones they had already issued, Bailey stole.
The lawyer said there was nothing aggravating of his client, adding that he had shown genuine remorse, made voluntary reparation to the victim.
“He did what the police did not. He is taking steps to amended his behaviour,” Connell told the court, adding that Bailey “was a good Anglican boy and drifted from the church but would have to go back to his mooring”.
He said his client’s offending was motivated by genuine desperate circumstances, adding that while he would not disclose its contents, the documents show “that it is not a figment of his imagination…
“‘The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak’,” Connell said, quoting the Bible, adding, “I am not making this up. He who came before me spoke about this.”
The lawyer said that every mitigating factor goes Bailey’s favour.
“You are not dealing with a hardened criminal by no means. And he must be given credit for helping the system,” the lawyer said.
“There is beauty in our society, but when you send one driver to AIA to collect $100,000 and take it to town, that is not something you would do in Piarco or Michael Manley. You would not have met man, money or machine.”
The lawyer said that if Bailey were a hardened criminal, he would have set up someone with a stick in a bag to mug him and leave with the money.
He argued that in the circumstances, a suspended sentence was warranted.