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Witness Says Clerk In Fraud Case Admitted 'Manipulation'

By NICO SCAVELLA

Tribune Staff Reporter

nscavella@tribunemedia.net

A GOVERNMENT employee yesterday testified how former Ministry of Finance accounts clerk James Anwar Johnson admitted to "manipulating" invoices which ultimately resulted in a local business receiving over $400,000 in unauthorised payments.

Duane Ellis, a former finance officer at the Minister of Finance, said Johnson admitted to altering the payment records of VMMS Business Service, which he suggested resulted in that business receiving $400,000 more than the $400,000 plus it was actually due to be paid.

Johnson's confession, Mr Ellis maintained, was made in front of himself as well as the financial secretary, Simon Wilson, sometime in April of last year, ultimately leading to Johnson's termination from the ministry.

However, that part of Mr Ellis' testimony was in dispute during yesterday's proceedings, as Magistrate Ambrose Armbrister was not satisfied that a connection had been established between the invoices the Crown alleges Johnson manipulated, and those he allegedly confessed to manipulating.

According to Mr Ellis, on April 12, 2017, he received a phone call from Grant Thorton concerning a number of payments. As a result of his subsequent investigations into the matter, he told James, his subordinate at the time, to pull VMMS' file for him.

However, he said James told him he could not locate the file at that time.

Mr Ellis said he then decided to ask another employee, Cypreana Hanna, to locate VMMS' file, but was not successful in finding it on that date.

On April 13, Mr Ellis said he called Hiram Cox, an official at the Department of Inland Revenue responsible for authorizing payments for contracting companies, to send him a spreadsheet concerning VMMS' authorized payments.

After he would have gone into the system and saw certain payments that aroused his suspicions, Mr Ellis said he printed the spreadsheet and conducted a reconciliation of the data he was presented with.

Mr Ellis said he also called Johnson again that day concerning the whereabouts of the VMMS file, but got the same answer that he (Johnson) did not know where it was.

Before he left on that day however, Mr Ellis said he told Johnson that he could not hold out on not having the file. The next morning, on April 14, Mr Ellis said he found the full VMMS file on his desk.

He said he subsequently reached out to Johnson, who told him that he put the file on his desk.

Ultimately, Mr Ellis said as a result of his reconciliation, VMMS Business Service was paid in excess of $800,000. Some $400,000 plus of that sum reflected payments authorized by Mr Cox, while the other $400,000 plus reflected payments that were not duly approved.

Mr Ellis said the matter was ultimately taken up with the financial secretary Simon Wilson, whom he said Johnson confessed in front of. Based on those developments, Johnson was promptly terminated.

According to Mr Ellis, the VMMS file that was placed on his desk contained nine invoices. Another two invoices were discovered after Johnson was fired from the Ministry of Finance.

The matter continues on Wednesday.

Johnson is standing trial over allegations he defrauded the ministry of over half a million dollars within a five-month period.

The St Andrew's Beach Estates resident stood before Chief Magistrate Joyann Ferguson-Pratt in August of last year facing 11 counts of falsification of accounts for his alleged actions between December 2016 and April 2017.

It is alleged that Johnson, being an accounts clerk at the Ministry of Finance, did falsify the payment records of VMMS Business Service from December 15, 2016 to April 5, 2017, purporting to show that VMMS Business Service was entitled to receive payments totaling $530,377.67.

Johnson was also charged with ten counts of stealing by reason of employment. He is accused of being concerned with others and stealing a total of $445,996.42 in cash from the ministry between December 21, 2016, and March 31, 2017, which he had access to by virtue of his employment.

Johnson also faced one count of attempted stealing by reason of employment for allegedly attempting to steal $41,115 from the ministry on April 5, 2017.

Johnson pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.

Later that month, he was granted $30,000 bail with two sureties by Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hilton. As part of his bail conditions, Johnson must report to the Elizabeth Estates Police Station every Monday and Friday.

Terry Archer and Destiny McKinney represent the Crown in the matter. Bjorn Ferguson represents the accused.

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