By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Crown’s appeal of former PLP Senator Frank Smith’s recent acquittal of 15 bribery and extortion related charges was adjourned by over a month because the prosecution has not received the trial transcripts.
The appellate court adjourned the matter to May 14 after obliging Director of Public Prosecutions Garvin Gaskin’s request for an adjournment because his team was not in possession of the trial’s official records.
One of Mr Smith’s attorneys, Damian Gomez, QC, objected to the adjournment, asserting that the Crown was served with a record his legal team previously prepared for the chief magistrate’s use, and which is identical to the official transcripts.
Mr Gomez also complained that in lodging its six grounds of appeal against Mr Smith, the Crown has done so without any “specificity”, thus depriving the defence of knowing what issues the Crown is raising.
Concerning the transcripts, however, appellate Justice Jon Isaacs noted that the court only got the transcripts on Friday evening, and thus thought it would “probably be best” to adjourn the matter.
His fellow Justice Stella Crane-Scott said that her brief perusal of the transcripts shows that they do not contain information specifying what charges were laid before the court.
Mr Gomez noted that the chief magistrate’s ruling outlined the former charges against his client, but ultimately yielded to the appellate judge’s observations.
Meanwhile, Smith’s lead attorney, Keith Knight, QC, regretted the adjournment as he said he was prepared to commence with the matter yesterday.
In July 2017, Smith was arraigned before the chief magistrate on 13 counts of extortion, and one count each of attempted extortion and bribery. He denied the charges.
It was alleged that between April 2016 and April 2017, in respect of his duties as a public officer, Smith demanded and obtained $5,000 a month from Barbara Hanna, knowing that he was not lawfully authorized to do so.
He was also alleged to have attempted to extort another $5,000 from Mrs Hanna in May 2017.
Concerning the bribery charge, it was alleged that he solicited $5,000 a month from Mrs Hanna for aiding her in getting a contract with the PHA.
According to the evidence led at trial, in March of 2016, Mrs Hanna’s cleaning company, Magic Touch, was awarded a $500,000 contract by the Public Hospitals Authority to clean the Critical Care Block (CCB) of Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH). Smith chaired the PHA at the time.
After she was awarded the contract, Smith was alleged to have contacted her and requested a meeting. At that meeting, Smith was said to have demanded the sum of $5,000 from Mrs Hanna. After receiving her first contract payment, Mrs Hanna said she satisfied Smith’s demand, believing it to be a one-time payment.
Upon doing so, however, she claimed she was told she had to make monthly payments in that amount.
Mrs Hanna subsequently paid Smith the $5,000 every month between March 2016 and April 2017, other than for August 2016, according to the now-rejected evidence. The Crown further alleged that a subsequent request for payment was made in May of 2017; however, Mrs Hanna refused that request because Smith’s political party, the PLP was no longer in power, and/or because he was no longer in a position of authority to request and/or demand the same.
The Crown, by way of its lead attorney Edward Jenkins, QC, later asserted that Mrs Hanna’s claim that she met with Mr Smith in March of 2016 after she was awarded the $500,000 contract was a “simple mistake”, and instead asserted that she met with Mr Smith in March of 2015.
However, in a February 1 ruling, the chief magistrate noted that there was not “one scintilla of evidence” to suggest that Mrs Hanna met with Smith prior to December of 2015, and further charged that the Crown’s effort at trying to establish that the two met in 2015 “casts further serious doubt on whether the conversation ever took place.”
She ultimately acquitted Smith of all 15 criminal charges after finding fault with numerous “inconsistencies” and “discrepancies” in the Crown’s case, which she further said was “undermined” by its own witnesses.
In particular, the chief magistrate said there were “inherent inconsistencies” throughout Mrs Hanna’s evidence and that her claims were “manifestly unreliable” and ran contrary to “reason and all common sense.”
Chief Magistrate Ferguson-Pratt also criticised both Health Minister Dr Duane Sands and National Security Minister Marvin Dames for the “egregious” way in which they interacted with Mrs Hanna prior to a police investigation into her claims, charging that their conduct gave the appearance of a “political flavour to a curious bystander.”
The chief magistrate especially criticised how a “serving member of Parliament” and Cabinet minister, Dr Sands, “entertained” Mrs Hanna in the circumstances despite her contributing some $300 towards his political campaign in the lead up to the 2017 general election.
She said the events that took place prior to the investigative phase of the matter involving both Cabinet ministers was “wholly inappropriate to state it mildly”.
The Crown appealed the chief magistrate’s decision, asserting that the judge took “extraneous matters into consideration” in her decision and that her conclusion was “unreasonable or could not be supported having regard to the evidence.”
Kendra Kelly and Al-Leecia Delancey are the other two attorneys on record for the Crown. Phillip McKenzie is the other attorney on record for the accused.