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Soldiers accused in payroll scam on $1.4m bail
Two soldiers accused of defrauding the T&T Defence Force (TTDF) of over $1.4 million through a payroll scam, have been each granted $375,000 bail.
Lance Corporal Jason Richards, of Edinburgh 500, and Private Josimar Belgrave, of St Ann’s, were granted bail when they appeared before Senior Magistrate Nanette Forde-John in the Port-of-Spain Magistrates’ Court on a total of 162 fraud charges.
The hearing began after 2 pm and ended over two hours later as Forde-John had to read each charge individually to the duo.
The men, both 31, were remanded to the Golden Grove State Prison as their relatives were unable to get approval from court staff, who had already finished work by the end of the hearing. The duo was forced to spend today’s Divali public holiday behind bars, until their relatives seek approval of their bail on Thursday morning.
Richards, a payroll clerk with the Defence Force, was slapped with the majority of the charges as he was accused of stealing the money by inflating his and Belgrave’s rent allowance between February and July.
He was also charged with wilfully falsifying the TTDF’s human resource records in a bid to cover up the crimes and was given a charge for each time he disposed of the money by transfers from his account to those of his relatives and through ATM and traditional withdrawals.
Belgrave, a striker with the TTDF’s TT Pro League team, was only slapped with charges for disposing of the money through various transfers and withdrawals.
Both men were not called upon to plead to the charges which were laid indictably.
Court prosecutor Insp Winston Dillon objected to bail for both men as he suggested that they would be flight risks and may seek intimidate witnesses in the case.
These suggestions were rejected by the duo’s attorneys Stephen Wilson and Daryl Worrell, who pointed out that they had been cooperative with the TTDF and police investigators since the alleged scam was uncovered in late July.
Wilson also noted that both men’s assets had been frozen by a High Court injunction, obtained by the State in August, as part of its legal bid to recoup the money from them. The lawsuit is still pending.
The men had been detained at the TTDF’s Tetron Barracks, Chaguaramas in August as the organisation conducted an internal investigation into the issue. They were eventually released after filing a habeas corpus lawsuit.
Wilson also suggested that the men be released into the TTDF’s custody in lieu of bail but this was rejected by Forde-John, who stated she not aware of such a policy.
The case was adjourned to November 14 with some of the charges which arose from transactions in areas other than Port-of-Spain were transferred to other dates.