By LAMECH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
MAGISTRATE Guillimina Archer told an American man he deserved to spend longer than nine months in prison for committing more than $90,000 in credit card fraud.
However, the magistrate said, the maximum sentence allowed under the law prevented her from ordering John Forest, 50, to spend more time behind bars.
She said: "My hands are tied by the law, which is why I cannot give you more time than the law allows."
Forest and his wife Lunaite Paulmerie, 28, of Brazil, were arraigned on December 6, 2011 on multiple credit fraud charges.
It was alleged that between Saturday, November 5 and Friday, December 2, the pair incurred a combined debt of $82,108.40 at two major resorts and several local businesses.
They stayed at the Sheraton Beach Hotel on West Bay Street between November 5 and November 19, accruing $19,306.77 worth of credit through false pretenses.
And between November 19 and December 2, they accrued $55,349.98 worth of credit at the Atlantis Resort and Casino on Paradise Island.
They also committed a combined $6,688.42 worth of credit fraud at four businesses in Marina Village: the O'Sugar Candy Store, Will and Ives, Pirana Joe and Calypso Carousel.
Forest was charged separately with committing $18,070 worth of credit fraud at the Riu Hotel.
When first arraigned, he denied all charges and pleaded not guilty. But his wife admitted her guilt and was fined $10,000 and sentenced to eight months at Her Majesty's Prison.
Yesterday, Forest told the court he wished to change his plea to all charges, and acknowledged that he pre-booked hotel accommodations at the Sheraton, Atlantis, and the Riu using stolen American Express cards.
His attorney Godfrey Pinder asked the magistrate to consider that Forest, a married father of three and Miami-based businessman, pleaded guilty and saved the court time.
He said Forest's children were now dependent on him, as their mother will be behind bars for months.
Mr Pinder said Forest was remorseful and asked the court to consider that his client suffers from high blood pressure and diabetes, and has not had access to his medication in prison.
"I would request the court to impose a sentence where he would be able to care for his family," Mr Pinder said.
Forest then asked to address the court, and apologised for his actions.
He added: "I've become very popular at the prison and I've gotten some death threats."
He did not explain who made the threats, but said they resulted from his having offered information on the condition of a fellow remand prisoner facing a $100 million attempted fraud charge.
Forest said he was moved to a different cell after speaking to prison officials, but is still uneasy.
Magistrate Archer acknowledged the submissions by Forest and Mr Pinder. "At the same time," she said, "I cannot ignore the seriousness and gravity of these charges for which you are before the courts.
"There was no doubt that you were complicit with Ms Paulmerie in your dishonesty and deceit.
"In the Bahamas, tourism is our country's number-one industry. We welcome all and sundry to enjoy what God has blessed us with. However, we expect that you will respect us and the laws of this land.
"Even before coming here, you knew your intentions and we cannot condone such actions here."
She sentenced him to serve nine months in prison and pay $20,000. If he does not pay the fine, he faces an additional three months in prison.