By LAMECH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
A COLOMBIAN woman was convicted and sentenced yesterday for stealing two Rolex watches – valued at $31,000 – from John Bull Ltd. The watches have yet to be recovered.
Before receiving 30 months behind bars at Her Majesty’s prison, 39-year-old Erika Cardenas of Bogota, Colombia, told Deputy Chief Magistrate Carolita Bethell that she did not know where the watches were because she dropped them on Bay Street as soon she realized the store security was following her.
Cardenas, with co-accused 22-year-old Michael Ruiz, also of Bogota, Colombia appeared in court yesterday afternoon facing two counts of stealing.
It is claimed the pair, on Monday, August 13, stole two Rolex stainless steel watches, together valued at $30,915, property of the John Bull Bay Street store.
Ruiz pleaded not guilty to the charges while Cardenas admitted guilt.
Deputy Chief Magistrate Bethell asked the police prosecutor for the facts surrounding the incident with respect to Cardenas.
“On the day in question,” the prosecutor began, “the defendant, she went to the John Bull store on Bay Street.
“She was accompanied by the no.2 defendant (Ruiz). They went to the Rolex watch showcase. The store clerk assisted no. 2 (Ruiz) in looking at the watches. That is when the defendant reached around the show case,” the court was told.
“She moved two of those watches as the show case door was opened. She then made her way out of the store on Bay Street.”
“As she travelled along Bay Street, the clerk alerted the security of the store and the security and others went in search of the defendant. She was spotted in the area of Charlotte and Bay Streets,” the prosecutor said, adding that the no.2 defendant (Ruiz) also left the store when Cardenas left with the watches.
Security caught the woman minutes later and brought her back to the store.
“Surveillance footage was viewed by the manager and confirmed the clerk’s allegations,” the prosecutor said.
“Were the watches recovered?” the deputy chief magistrate asked.
“The watches were not recovered,” the prosecutor answered, continuing on that police were called to the store and the woman was taken into custody.
During an interview with police, with the aid of a Spanish interpreter, she (Cardenas) “declined to answer any of the questions officers put to her.”
“However, she acknowledged that she was in the John Bull Store,” the prosecutor said.
It was noted that the defendant had one conviction for a similar offence that occurred on the same day.
The prosecutor also said that Cardenas, through CopaAirlines, came to the Bahamas on August 10 as a visitor.
Deputy Chief Magistrate Bethell addressed the interpreter and Cardenas, asking, “Did she remove the two Rolex watches?”
The defendant, through her interpreter, answered, “Yes.”
“And you left the store with them, without paying?” the magistrate asked.
“Yes,” the woman answered.
The magistrate then asked: “Where are the watches now?”
“When she noticed they (the security) were behind her, she just threw them on the ground,” the interpreter quoted Cardenas as saying.
The court accepted Cardenas’ guilty plea and convicted her on the two counts of stealing.
Defending attorney Christina Galanos, in a mitigation plea on behalf of her client, told the magistrate:
“Ms. Cardenas is 39 years old. She resides in Bogota, Columbia. She was in the jurisdiction on vacation at the time. She is married with three children — one boy aged 7 and twin girls aged 14. Her children reside with her and at this point, her mother who has a heart condition, is now taking care of them,” said the attorney.
“Back in Colombia, she was working as a sales agent,” the court was told.
The lawyer said that her client only had one previous conviction in this jurisdiction, September 10, for stealing $685 worth of clothing and accessories from Del Sol store on Bay Street, minutes before the John Bull incident.
“She claims she was intoxicated at the time,” the lawyer said.
The magistrate asked the lawyer if her client was willing to compensate John Bull for the watches, together valued at nearly $31,000.
Her lawyer said that based on her discussion with her client, the money was not there to restore what was lost.
Deputy Chief Magistrate Bethell, turning to the accused said it was noteworthy, that in both theft cases, the accused had not wasted the court’s time and had immediately pleaded guilty.
“That is one thing the court notes in your favour,” the magistrate said. “Sadly,” she continued, “the court also notes that you are a grown woman, with a husband and three children.”
“You travelled from Panama on CopaAirlines to the Bahamas and went on a stealing spree. You entered John Bull and stole expensive watches.
“The court will sentence you to 30 months in prison on each count. However, this does not compensate the store for the loss of some $30,000,” she added.
The sentence takes effect from the date of conviction and is to run concurrently with the six-month sentence she received from Magistrate Guilimina Archer on September 10 for stealing from Del Sol on Bay Street.
The prosecution withdrew the charges against Ruiz. Shortly afterwards, Cardenas was escorted out of court and a family member, who had just realized what was happening, started sobbing and pleading that he could pay for the watches. He was asked to be seated.
Ruiz did not leave court as he had another matter before the court. He sought to change his plea in the Del Sol case where he initially pleaded not guilty before Magistrate Archer on September 10.
At the time of his first arraignment, he initially pleaded guilty to the charge. However, he later claimed he was only holding Cardenas’ shopping bag in Del Sol on August 13 and had no idea the goods were being stolen. The two were in the store and being watched on the store’s surveillance camera.
Yesterday, he changed his plea again and said he also aided in the theft of a plastic bag, a yellow sweater, four t-shirts and four striped pants from Del Sol, valued at $685.
Ms Galanos pleaded for leniency on behalf of her client who resides with a girlfriend of seven years and two children. She said he did not waste the court’s time as he pleaded guilty before the start of a trial. She said Ruiz was a young man of previous good character and had been on remand since the incident in question.
The court considered the attorney’s submission, but noted that Ruiz attempted to flee the Bahamas after the incident.
She fined him $2,500 for the charges and told him that if the fine was not paid, he would spend one year behind bars.