By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE lead investigator in former Cabinet minister Shane Gibson’s bribery trial admitted on Wednesday to altering the original statement she took from a local businessman by adding in a pivotal allegation against the former parliamentarian some three months after it was taken and signed.
Assistant Superintendent Deborah Thompson admitted that the initial June 28, 2017 statement she took from Jonathan Ash contained no allegations that he was required to “forego” $250,000 in order to be paid the $1m he was owed by the Christie administration for Hurricane Matthew cleanup work.
Instead, ASP Thompson said that allegation was mentioned months later when she met with Mr Ash in September of that year. But instead of taking a further statement from Mr Ash, ASP Thompson simply made the change and kept the June 2017 date because the alteration was “minor” in her view.
But despite that, the 25-year law enforcement veteran conceded that the issue of Mr Ash allegedly being required to “forego” any payments was, and still is, an important part of the current case, and further admitted that her actions could have misled the defence.
“It was a minor amendment made to the statement so I made the decision to maintain the date and add the amendment,” she said. “…It could appear to be misleading but I explained the reason why I did it.”
According to the evidence, on June 27 2017, ASP Thompson attended a meeting with Mr Ash and his attorneys at the Central Detective Unit (CDU). During the meeting, ASP Thompson said Mr Ash gave a “brief overview” of the allegations against Gibson and explained certain details about the Hurricane Matthew cleanup efforts in which he was involved.
ASP Thompson said the following day, June 28, Mr Ash returned to CDU with his attorneys Alicia Bowe and James Thompson, and she consequently took “comprehensive notes” of what was said. The officer said the information Mr Ash gave was “very comprehensive and detailed”, as he outlined in detail his various responsibilities during the hurricane clean-up efforts.
ASP Thompson said at the end of that meeting, she invited Mr Ash to return to sign off on his statement. However, there was none for him to sign at the time. Nonetheless, ASP Thompson said she typed up a statement based on the notes she took that day, and in doing so, ended up making alterations to what was recorded in her notes. On June 30, she said Mr Ash returned to CDU, read his statement and signed it.
In that statement, Mr Ash referred to a meeting he attended with Gibson and a woman connected to Gibson, Deborah Bastian, at one of the former parliamentarian’s former offices at the Ministry of the Public Service on Meeting Street.
According to the evidence, Mr Ash was quoted as saying: “Ms Bastian said ‘I need $250,000,’ and I told her she got to be joking. And I picked up my cellular phone to call my daddy, and she told me I cannot use my phone in here.”
When he took the stand earlier in the trial, Mr Ash said that during that meeting, Ms Bastian, Gibson’s alleged intermediary, told him that he needed to “forego $250,000” —which represented one of his payments —in order to receive his outstanding money owed to him.
However, Mr Ash later conceded that he “assumed” Ms Bastian meant that the $250,000 was for Gibson, and that given the context in which the demand was made—during a meeting between those three about his outstanding funds—he would have to pay to get his money.
“…She said I needed $250,000 in order (for you) to receive your payment. So at that point I understand—ain’t no one had to tell me nothing else—I understand that in order for me to get paid, Mr Gibson have to be paid,” Mr Ash explained at the time.
On Wednesday, however, in response to a question by lead defence attorney Keith Knight, QC, ASP Thompson admitted that the “forego” issue was never raised during the June 28 interview she conducted of Mr Ash, notwithstanding the “very comprehensive and detailed” allegations he made at the time. She said that arose months later in September 2017, when she arranged a meeting with Mr Ash, Ms Bastian, and their respective lawyers to clear up the “ambiguities” in their respective statements.
She said when Mr Ash stated his claim that he was asked to “forego” one of his payments, she simply pulled up the template for Mr Ash’s previous statements that was already saved on her work computer, made the changes electronically, but kept the date of the original statements. Afterwards, she printed it off and Mr Ash signed it.
However, Mr Knight suggested altering a signed statement was inappropriate in the circumstances, and that the senior officer would have been better served taking another statement. However, ASP Thompson maintained that it was a “minor” alteration, thus negating the need for her to have done so.
Mr Knight said: “That word ‘forego’ that you said was minor, changed the context and content of what took place at that meeting.”
“I explained what happened,” was ASP Thompson’s reply.
Gibson is charged with 15 counts of bribery. It is alleged that between January 16 and 19, 2017, and being concerned with Ms Bastian, he solicited more than $200,000 from Mr Ash as an inducement to or a reward for him giving assistance or using his influence in approving outstanding payments owed to Mr Ash by the government.
The Crown further asserts that on various dates between January 19-31, 2017, Gibson, still concerned with Ms Bastian, consequently accepted $100,000 worth of payments from Mr Ash. Then between January 30 and February 28 of that year, Gibson accepted several cash payments from Mr Ash totalling some $100,000.
Between February 10 and March 27, 2017, Gibson solicited and accepted a total of $80,000 each from Ash, but this time he was not concerned with Ms Bastian, the Crown maintains. The Crown claims Mr Ash made the initial payments of $200,000 to Gibson through Ms Bastian and directly paid Gibson the remaining $80,000.
Gibson has denied the allegations.
The case continues Thursday.