By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE lead attorney for former Cabinet minister Shane Gibson on Friday questioned the validity of a businessman’s claims that the former parliamentarian used the code name “Shingles” whenever he wanted to receive his alleged $80,000 in bribery payments.
Keith Knight, QC, suggested that contrary to Jonathan Ash’s claims, the former labour and national insurance minister’s various reference to “shingles” when speaking to Mr Ash were about exactly that—shingles.
Mr Knight based his suggestions on a WhatsApp conversation between Mr Ash and Gibson, in which the former sends Gibson a picture of a pile of used shingles lying on the ground, just before he sent Gibson a voice note saying: “I drop the shingles off, aye”.
Mr Ash maintained that he was referring to the bribery payments, and refuted suggestions by the Jamaican attorney that he literally dropped off a “bundle of shingles” for Gibson. Conversely, he insisted that he dropped the “shingles” off to Deborah Bastian, a woman connected to Gibson, at her office at the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) on Harrold Road to give to the former minister.
As to the origin of the picture, Mr Ash, who owns two trucking companies, Ash Enterprises and Trucking Services and High Roller’s Trucking, suggested that he didn’t take the photo, but it was instead taken by one of his workers and sent to him.
“It was hurricane, I was not responsible for building any houses, I was not responsible for fixing any roof,” he maintained. “I was responsible only to clean up the constituency. The shingles that are on the ground, was where my workers take them and rest them there, and they send the photos of them. That’s it.”
Then, Mr Ash was shown a printout of another part of his and Gibson’s WhatsApp messages, where Gibson asks: “…By the way, any shingles today?” Mr Ash maintained that in that message, Gibson was again asking about the bribery money.
However, Mr Knight submitted to Mr Ash that he was lying when he said Gibson used the words “any shingles today” in reference to any alleged payments. Mr Ash shot back with “were you there, sir?” before explaining that Gibson’s message “had a lot to do with money”.
“…Because I paid him,” Mr Ash said. “The first payment was $25,000, in February, between the days of the 10th to the 14th. Baha Mar Boulevard. Then another payment, off Gladstone Road. He was in a blue F-150 truck.”
However, Mr Ash’s statements prompted Mr Knight to remind him of his previous testimony, where he said that it was in March of 2017 that he began paying Gibson directly. Mr Ash was subsequently shown his June 28, 2017 statement to police, in which he said: “During the month of March 2017, Shane Gibson started calling me from his cellular phone to my cellular phone. Mr Gibson introduced himself to me and told me that he needed some shingles which I knew to be the street name for cash”.
Mr Ash said he recalled saying that to police, adding that he stood by his statement.
In any event, Mr Knight suggested that even though Mr Ash claims he was paying bribes to Gibson, directly or otherwise, he still displayed “respect” and “commitment” for the man, and asserted that Mr Ash was comfortable enough with his client to ask him for “assistance”.
Mr Knight said his suggestions were based on the fact that in multiple voice notes, Mr Ash refers to Gibson as “general” and “sir” which the attorney said are both “sign(s) of respect”. In another voice note, Mr Ash says: “Mr Gibson anything for you man. I just trying to make it happen you know, big man.”
Again, Mr Knight said such words were laced with and indicative of “respect” for Gibson on Mr Ash’s part, and further showed “commitment” to the former parliamentarian. Mr Ash confirmed as much, saying: “At that time I had respect for Mr Gibson”.
However, when Mr Knight suggested that Mr Ash’s words exuded “commitment” to a “good man”, Mr Ash said: “Commitment to a man. I’d say that.”
Mr Ash was also shown a number of photographs of Gibson’s most recent election campaign posters. Mr Ash confirmed that although he wasn’t the only person who erected Gibson’s billboards throughout the Golden Gates constituency, he did the work “free of charge” for the former minister.
Then, in a voice note to Gibson on April 11, 2017, Mr Ash said: “You looking good, you looking good, you looking good!” Mr Knight said that voice note was an “expression of happiness” on Mr Ash’s part on how Gibson’s odds were looking as a candidate for re-election. However, Mr Ash said he wasn’t paying Gibson any bribes at that time.
Nonetheless, when asked by Mr Knight if it was correct to say that him erecting the billboards was part of his “contribution” to ensure Gibson would be re-elected as Member of Parliament for the Golden Gates community, Mr Ash said: “He asked me to do him a favour and I did it…I didn’t think he was gone win, but I did it”.
When asked by Mr Knight if he wanted Gibson to win his seat, Mr Ash said: “I didn’t have a problem if they win. I didn’t have a problem if the PLP win”. When Mr Knight reiterated the question, and emphasized that he was asking it solely in connection to Gibson, Mr Ash replied: “I wouldn’t say that”. After some more probing by the Jamaican attorney, Mr Ash said: “If he win, he win,” before finally conceding that he wanted Gibson to win his seat.
“You wanted him to win, a person to whom you were, according to you, paying bribes?” Mr Knight asked. Mr Ash replied in the affirmative.
Mr Ash was also shown a picture of a scene that took place during the Progressive Liberal Party’s convention in January 2017. Mr Ash identified himself in the photo, saying he was wearing a “yellow tie”.
Mr Knight subsequently observed aloud that Mr Ash looked “very enthusiastic” in the photo, an observation with which Mr Ash agreed.