By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
A BAHAMAS Power and Light retiree claimed yesterday his former department never did any business with two of the many companies a former bank employee allegedly wrote fake Scotiabank cheques for as part of a multi-million-dollar theft scheme in the early part of last year.
Kevin Bowleg, former distribution and construction manager, said his department never did business with the Bobcat Specialist, nor Enviro Tank, and neither did he know of Scuderia Electrical, three of the entities former banker Reno Bethel allegedly made $1.4m payable to between February and April 2017.
Additionally, Peter Rutherford, BPL’s assistant general manager of customer services, said he never did business with Enviro Tank, neither Heavy Machinery and Trucking. He also said he never signed a cheque for Scuderia Electrical, HRT Rentals, Bahamas Crane and Concrete Pumps. The latter two companies are also amongst those to which Bethel allegedly made out fake cheques.
Mr Rutherford, who said he could sign all cheques that passed through BPL, further stated that had he been made aware of the cheque for Scuderia Electrical, he would have “immediately” pulled it and made inquiries about that vendor, because he had never seen that name before.
The testimonies came during the trial of five men charged in connection with a multi-million-dollar theft scheme at the electricity provider.
Bethel, a former FirstCaribbean International Bank (FCIB) employee, Che Campbell Chase, an attorney, James Rueben Dean, a former fixed assets officer at BPL, Anthony Strachan and Orvano Symonette are the accused.
Taking the witness stand before Magistrate Ambrose Ambrister, Mr Bowleg explained that he was responsible for managing all overhead, underground, substation, street lighting and all major projects for BPL.
He said major projects, that range in price from $5,000 up to $2m, typically go out to tender, while minor projects, those under $5,000, are usually executed by certain preferred vendors. The price for the minor projects are usually the same, thus making it merely a matter of which vendor completes the project.
Concerning the major contracts, only companies that are deemed qualified by BPL and consequently placed on the provider’s contractor’s list can bid on any contracts, Mr Bowleg said.
Mr Bowleg said given his former position, he had the power to sign off initially on cheques up to $2,000. Anything above that would be referred to his superior for a second signature.
Mr Bowleg said some of the projects that fell under his former portfolio included street light repairs, something the former manager said only two companies, Nairn’s Construction and Electro Telecomm, were engaged by BPL to execute.
However, when asked by Crown prosecutor Cordell Frazier if he was aware of a company named Scuderia Electrical, Mr Bowleg said no. He also denied doing business with the Bobcat Specialist and Enviro Tank.
In August last year, Bethel was arraigned on 47 fraud-related charges stemming from a BPL investigation. He faced 23 counts of fraud by false pretences, 23 counts of receiving and one count of conspiracy to commit fraud by false pretences. Approximately two months later, Bethel was arraigned over nearly 100 additional fraud-related charges.
It is alleged that between February 27 and May 5, 2017, Bethel obtained a total of $1,062,330.05 from BPL’s bank account held at Scotiabank while at Royal Bank of Canada on John F Kennedy Drive. It is also alleged that on May 4, 2017, Bethel attempted to defraud BPL of a total of $109,147.80 from its Scotiabank account while at FCIB on JFK Drive.
It is further alleged that between March 30 and April 7, 2017, Bethel converted $200,000 of Bahamian currency to US currency, and transferred it to an account in the Imperial Bank of Canada.
He also allegedly converted $6,500 of Bahamian currency to Canadian currency and transferred it to an account held at TD Canada Trust in Ontario.
It is further alleged that between February 8 and April 20, 2017, Bethel uttered numerous forged Scotiabank cheques totalling $1,496,005.09 from the Bahamas Electricity Corporation’s account and made them payable to various entities, including Bahamas Crane and Concrete Pumps, KS Civil Engineers, HRT Rentals, Bahamas Industrial Equip Sales and Re, Bahamas Heavy Machinery and Trucking, the Bobcat Specialist, Enviro Tank, and Scuderia Electrical via either RBC or FCIB.
It is also alleged that Bethel was in possession of multiple forged Scotiabank cheques totaling $1,496,005.09, drawn from BEC’s account and made payable to the aforementioned entities.
Bethel pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.
Shortly after that, Dean and Chase were arraigned over allegations they collectively defrauded the electricity provider of close to $2m over a four-month span last year.
Dean was charged before Chief Magistrate Joyann Ferguson-Pratt with 42 counts of fraud by false pretences, 11 counts of falsification of accounts, and one count of conspiracy to commit fraud.
Chase was charged with seven counts of fraud by false pretences and one count of conspiracy to commit fraud.
It is alleged that between Dean and Chase they obtained $1,966,163.85 from BPL’s Scotiabank account while at either FCIB or Royal Bank of Canada on John F Kennedy Drive.
Dean was accused of solely defrauding BPL of $1,752,077.6, while Chase was accused of defrauding BPL of $214,086.25.
It is further alleged that Dean falsified numerous work order codes totalling $670,056.19.
Dean and Chase both pleaded not guilty.
Strachan was charged with seven counts of fraud by false pretences and one count of conspiracy to commit fraud by false pretences. It is alleged he defrauded BPL of $214,086.25.
Symonette was charged with defrauding the company of $317,652.50. It is also alleged he attempted to fraudulently obtain $109,147.40 from FCIB on May 4, 2017. Symonette also faced four counts of possession of forged cheques drawn on BEC’s bank account and made payable to Bahamas Industrial Equip Sales and Re, BN Backhoe Trucking and Island Site Development and of presenting those forged cheques.
The case continues.