10 in court for flood relief fraud; police probing ministry boss

Ten peo­ple, in­clud­ing a Min­istry of So­cial De­vel­op­ment and Fam­i­ly Ser­vices em­ploy­ee, have ap­peared in court charged in con­nec­tion with a flood re­lief grant scam.

Far­rah Han­iff, Heather Grif­fith-Ben­jamin, Michael Alex­is, Car­ol Christo­pher-Ben­nett, Deb­bie Critchlow, Adele­phia Lal­lion, Ajay Ram­lakhan, Ram­lakhan’s com­mon-law wife Man­disa Stew­art, Dar­ren Bal­con and his com­mon-law wife Ro­hi­ni Per­sad ap­peared be­fore Mag­is­trate Maris­sa Gomez in the Port-of-Spain Mag­is­trates’ Court on a se­ries of charges re­lat­ed to sev­en $20,000 grants that were fraud­u­lent­ly ob­tained ear­li­er this month.

Han­iff, a clerk in the min­istry, was sole­ly charged with five counts of forg­ing and ut­ter­ing five of the min­istry’s emer­gency re­lief and re­cov­ery as­sis­tance forms which were used to ob­tain the grants. She was joint­ly charged with Grif­fith-Ben­jamin, Alex­is, Christo­pher-Ben­nett, Ram­lakhan and Stew­art with fraud­u­lent­ly ob­tain­ing the grants by pre­tend­ing to be vic­tims of flood­ing, which dev­ast­ed com­mu­ni­ties in St He­le­na, Kel­ly Vil­lage and Ca­roni in mid-Oc­to­ber.

Critchlow, Lal­lion, Bal­con and Per­sad were charged sep­a­rate­ly with fraud­u­lent­ly ob­tain­ing two grants that were paid to Bal­con and Critchlow. The of­fences are al­leged to have tak­en place be­tween Oc­to­ber 25 and No­vem­ber 13.

They were not called up­on to plead to the charges as they were laid in­dictably.

All the ac­cused ex­cept Bal­con and Per­sad live in com­mu­ni­ties in cen­tral Trinidad which bor­der those that were se­ri­ous­ly af­fect­ed by flood­ing. Bal­con and Per­sad re­side in Mara­cas/St Joseph.

All the ac­cused were grant­ed be­tween $30,000 and $40,000 bail by a Jus­tice of the Peace af­ter they were charged by de­tec­tives of the Fraud Squad on Sun­day night.

How­ev­er, on­ly Alex­is and Ram­lakhan were not able to ac­cess bail and were tak­en to court by po­lice in hand­cuffs.

Dur­ing the hear­ing, Alex­is’ lawyer Ran­dall Raphael asked Gomez to re­duce his client’s bail. Mag­is­trate Gomez de­nied the re­quest, as she felt the amount grant­ed pre­vi­ous­ly was rea­son­able.

Since the flood­ing on Oc­to­ber 19, the min­istry has re­port­ed­ly dis­trib­uted over $80 mil­lion in re­lief grants to over 5,000 fam­i­lies across T&T. Each house­hold re­ceived be­tween $15,000 and $20,000 based on the cri­te­ria used.

The T&T Guardian un­der­stands that in ad­di­tion to the 10 peo­ple al­ready charged, sev­er­al oth­ers, in­clud­ing a se­nior min­istry of­fi­cial and three of his close rel­a­tives, are al­so be­ing in­ves­ti­gat­ed by the Fraud Squad and may ap­pear lat­er this week.

The ac­cused are al­so be­ing rep­re­sent­ed by Richard Sir­joo, Wayne Sturge, Kir­by Joseph and Tiffany Ali. They are ex­pect­ed to reap­pear in court on Fri­day.

- by Derek Achong. Photo by Shirley Bahadur.

Favourite count: 
Favourite count ids: