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No jail time for customs officer guilty of corruption and theft of over $43,500

No jail time for customs  officer guilty of corruption and theft of over $43,500
Julia Phillips

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There will be no jail time for a former Customs supervisor who pleaded guilty to theft of $43,626.91 and official corruption.

Julia Phillips, who at the time of her arrest was the supervisor of the Bequia Customs branch pleaded guilty to the charges on Wednesday at the Magistrate’s Court in Kingstown.

She was sentenced to six months in jail on each of the charges, suspended for one year, and which will run concurrently.

Investigations into the missing money began on Monday September 24, 2018, when Comptroller of Customs and Excise, Irwina Phills received information about irregularities in the cash collected at the Bequia customs branch.

Phills deployed the assistant comptroller, Terence Horne from the main office at Kingstown to Bequia, to inquire. Horne asked for Phillips’ cash book, and from there noticed that it showed records of cash collected from the period August 15, 2018, and September 24, 2018, but no receipts issued by the Bequia Revenue Office to prove that the cash was paid into the bank.

Procedurally the cash should be deposited on a daily basis.

Horne asked Phillips where the cash and receipts were, and she apparently told him that she would usually help out a friend whenever she got foreign currency, and that was where the irregularity of not paying the cash on time came in. She also said she would sort it out by the end of the month.

Members of the Internal Audit Unit visited the Customs and Excise department and conducted an audit of the records. The result was a confirmation that cash collected for the period August 15, 2018, to September 26, 2018, had not been deposited to the bank or paid directly to the Revenue Office. They determined EC$43,626.91 was unaccounted for.

The matter was reported to the police, who began investigating. Phillips was taken into custody and while she was at the police station, the pastor of a church on Bequia brought EC$43,626.91 to her, which she handed over to the assistant customs supervisor, and he deposited it to the bank.

When she was electronically interviewed, Phillips stated she was taking full responsibility for the missing cash and that she had already paid it back.

She was charged last October for theft of $43,626.91EC between August 14 and September 25 and official corruption. Bail in the sum of $60,000 was allowed at that time.

“By no stretch of the imagination is Julia Phillips a hardened criminal. She is by no stretch of the imagination a threat to our society,” lawyer Grant Connell noted of his 50-year-old client, who worked at customs for 31 years but has lost her job.

Connell recognized jailtime as a possibility for his client’s punishment, up to two or three years, and so he referenced two cases from St Lucia to Magistrate Bertie Pompey to show that custody was not the option to take in this case.

Connell also brought in the Vincentian case involving former High Court registrar Tamara Gibson-Marks. He said that although not bound by the decision in this case, in the interest of the principle of consistency in sentencing, the case was relevant to Pompey.

In 2014, Gibson-Marks was sentenced to a fine of $4500 for theft of $21,925 and $6000 on a charge of abuse of office, and she was given time to pay this fine. She had also repaid the money stolen.

This was a sentence handed down at the Kingstown Magistrate’s Court by Magistrate Carla James. “Tamara Marks was the Registrar of the High Court, she had a fiduciary duty,” Connell noted.

Therefore, if Pompey was not minded to order community service, Connell’s alternative submission was a fine, given the “factual matrix” between the Marks case and the Phillips case.

Pompey began, “First I have to consider the seriousness of the offence, albeit the money has been repaid.”

“I have to give consideration to the trust that was reposed in you, and the fact that you breached that trust,” he continued. He stated that the breach of trust made it a level A offence under the guidelines. However, he noted that the amount fell below $50,000.

On the side of mitigation, Phillips had pleaded guilty, and had no previous convictions. He also considered that she was 50, and had lost her job.

The amount being paid back was highly relevant to his sentence, Pompey said, after handing down two six month jail sentences each on the charge of official corruption and theft. These were suspended for a year, and will run concurrently.

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