By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
A senior probation officer on Friday recommended former College of the Bahamas employee Chimeka Gibbs be given a non-custodial sentence for stealing over $600,000 from the institution over a seven-year period.
Kaylesa Simmons, from the Department of Rehabilitative Welfare Services, told Justice Cheryl Grant-Bethel it wouldn’t be in Gibbs’ “best interest” for her to serve a prison term for her actions, and said the 40-year-old is capable of rehabilitation and reform.
When questioned by the judge on Gibbs’ prospects for counselling, the senior probation officer said as Gibbs has not admitted to the offences, there really wouldn’t be anything to counsel her on.
However, Ms Simmons said if Justice Grant-Thompson decides to impose a custodial sentence, part of Gibbs’ rehabilitation should include her teaching basic computer skills to the female inmates at the Department of Correctional Services.
Ms Simmons’ recommendations came during the sentencing stage of court proceedings concerning Gibbs conviction for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars between March 2008 and October 2015 while employed at the college.
According to the probation report, completed on April 4, Gibbs’ various family members and/or acquaintances recommended that she be spared imprisonment and instead be given a second chance or alternative punishment.
Agatha Watson, the office manager at Gibbs’ previous place of employment, Watson’s Construction, described Gibbs as a “trustworthy” and “competent” employee for the four years she worked there. Mrs Watson thus expressed shock at Gibbs’ actions.
Renee Mayers, the former division head of the Human Resources Department at the University of the Bahamas (UB), further described Gibbs as a “diligent, skilled and a technically savvy employee”.
However, Samara Saunders-Hepburn, an information technology and human resources analyst at UB, said it is her belief Gibbs was allowed “too much control” at the college, as she was the only one responsible for entering payroll data.
Nonetheless, Mrs Saunders-Hepburn, who trained Gibbs as well as her immediate supervisor on how to use the payroll system, she expressed shock at Gibbs’ involvement in the matter because she saw Gibbs as an “honest individual” for the nine years she knew her.
Meanwhile, Anastasia Brown, a former coworker and friend of Gibbs for some 20 years, was of the opinion that Gibbs is “being used as a scapegoat.” She said it would be difficult for someone in Gibbs’ position to have committed the offences in question without anyone being aware.
Nonetheless, Ms Brown further claimed Gibbs was a frugal individual and would seek financial advice from her on occasion.
Gibbs’ attorney, Roger Gomez from the Public Defender’s Office, submitted that as his client has no previous convictions, she would be a “bigger asset to society” if she is not given a custodial sentence.
When the issue concerning Gibbs repaying whatever remains of the monies she stole arose, Mr Gomez indicated that her various bank accounts have been frozen as a result of her court case. However, he said the court can simply seize the funds in her accounts.
However, Crown prosecutor Al-Leecia Delancy disagreed with the suggestion that Gibbs be given a non-custodial sentence, charging that she “must be held accountable for her actions”.
Ms Delancy also submitted Gibbs is not capable of being reformed, based on the probation report indicating she has not admitted to the crime and thus shows no remorse.
Justice Grant-Thompson ultimately said she will reflect on the submissions made and the information contained in the probation report before handing down her sentence on April 23.
Gibbs remains in custody until that time.
In February, a nine-member jury returned a 9-0 guilty verdict on all 24 counts Gibbs was charged with: eight of stealing by reason of employment and 16 of falsification of accounts, concerning her actions between 2008 and 2015.
According to court documents, Gibbs served as both a senior clerk and a human resources assistant at the college.
The jury was told Gibbs stole over $600,000 from COB by reason of her employment at the institution. The jurors were also told Gibbs falsified numerous COB direct deposit files, the result of which purported to show she was entitled to over $200,000 in salary payments.
According to the evidence given at trial, Gibbs accomplished the latter feat by manipulating the information contained on certain documents to be submitted to the Bank of the Bahamas on behalf of COB.
As a result, Gibbs received up to $13,000 over and above her monthly net salary of $2,395 between 2008 and 2015. In total, Gibbs paid herself $640,000 extra between those seven years to various bank accounts at Commonwealth Bank, Scotiabank FirstCaribbean International Bank and the Royal Bank of Canada.