Contractor loses ‘millions’ in 4-year BEC theft fight

A former Bahamian Contractors Association (BCA) president yesterday said his business had lost “millions of dollars” during his four-year fight against electricity theft charges, and he was now trying “to put the pieces together again”.

Stephen Wrinkle told Tribune Business that both he and his family had suffered “tremendous damage” that has yet to clear, even though the Court of Appeal on Monday (see other Page 1B article) finally quashed his conviction for stealing BEC electricity at downtown Nassau’s BayParl building.

The Wrinkle Development Company chief emphasised that it was “very difficult to repair one’s reputation”, given that reports of his Magistrate’s Court conviction - and the original charges against him - were still posted on the Internet for the world to read.

Mr Wrinkle disclosed that he was now consulting his attorneys over the options available to him in restoring his reputation, plus potential action against the BEC employees’ whose evidence was used to initially convict him.

Echoing the Court of Appeal’s verdict that he never had a case to answer, Mr Wrinkle also joined them in criticising the way the initial case was handled by Magistrate Derence Rolle.

He especially hit out at the magistrate’s frequent interventions to question witnesses, and the permission given to the prosecution to call new witnesses after his attorneys closed their case - two aspects also criticised by the Court of Appeal.

Reiterating that no electricity was stolen from BEC, Mr Wrinkle told Tribune Business that it was “ironic” that the bill - and affected areas in the BayParl building - were the Government’s responsibility.

The ex-BCA chief questioned how BEC, and the magistrate, could have found him guilty of stealing electricity when the Corporation’s staff acknowledged that the power supply was still going through the meter.

“They couldn’t answer that one,” he told Tribune Business. “Fortunately, the Court of Appeal did.”

Appeal Justice Jon Isaacs, in a written ruling endorsed by his fellow justices, court president Anita Allen and Justice Neville Adderley, quashed the magistrate’s court ruling on the grounds that the prosecution had failed to prove there was a “prima facie case” against Mr Wrinkle.

The well-known contractor described that verdict as “a big weight off of our shoulders”, allowing him to start the process of rebuilding his business, and professional and personal reputation.

Disclosing that the case had cost his business “millions of dollars” in lost construction contracts, Mr Wrinkle told Tribune Business: “We went from a robust business to nothing. There’s millions of dollars on the table.

“We’ll try to put the pieces together. We had several contracts pending and business deals in the works....

“When you are out of the loop in the construction business for four years, it’s tough to rebuild. The clients have gone elsewhere, the architects have gone elsewhere, and the leads we were building up are gone. They’re never coming back, and we have substantial legal expenses.”

Expressing his gratitude to the Court of Appeal for “determining our innocence”, Mr Wrinkle suggested that the original verdict showed that the judicial system was “in desperate need of reform”.

He added that the Court of Appeal verdict meant that his case had joined others in “clogging up” the system for four years, with the Attorney General’s Office wasting “time and resources” in unsuccessfully trying to prosecute it/

“It’s been a very long four years,” Mr Wrinkle told Tribune Business. “A few administrative people at BEC managed to ruin our character, finances and everything associated with us.

“It’s good to be vindicated, but going forward I have concerns about that happening again to other people.”

He added: “It’s done a tremendous amount of damage to our business and professional career, as well as emotionally and financially.

“I spent a week at Fox Hill prison. I’ve been to the ‘big house’, and all these things are in the public domain. I’m curious as to what recourse do I have. What redress is there?

“It’s very difficult to repair one’s reputation. It’s on the Internet, on Google. It’s gone around the world. We have to make some sort of stand to make sure our name is clear.”

Mr Wrinkle alleged that the case against him had been brought with “malicious intent”, although he provided no evidence to support his claim, or identified who may have been behind it.

He added that the matter had forced him to resign as BCA president at a “critical time” for the organisation, and said “this kind of victimisation” would deter Bahamians from joining civic organisations and contributing to wider Bahamian society.

Still, Mr Wrinkle said his acquittal by the Court of Appeal would enable him to “look forward” for the first time in four years.

“We’ve never had anything of this magnitude happen before,” Mr Wrinkle told Tribune Business. “We’ve been through a lot, not to mention the character, and pain and suffering. They took a big swipe at us.”

He then disclosed that the case related to an unpaid $150,000 bill, said to be owing for two months, and electricity supply to an area in the BayParl building that included the stairs, two bathrooms and a hallway.

“That was really the portion of the building that had been leased to the Government since the 1980s. They took half the building and never paid their bill. Ironic, isn’t it,” Mr Wrinkle said.

“It was a $150,000 bill. They wanted to throw it to us because they did not want to take responsibility for it.”

Questioning how electricity supply to that area could rack up a $150,000 bill in two months, Mr Wrinkle added: “They never gave me a bill.

“No electricity was ever stolen. All the electricity was metered. Everything was on the owner’s side. Our question to them was: How can I steal electricity if it’s going through the meter? They couldn’t answer that.”

Describing the year-long prison sentence and fine imposed by Magistrate Rolle as “draconian”, Mr Wrinkle added: “We’re certainly looking forward to a brighter future.

“It’s just a shame that it took up four years of our life. I’ve been to court 12-14 times over this matter. It’s been going on and on. That costs a tremendous amount of assets. It’s tough in there.”


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