By FARRAH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE chief magistrate on Thursday fined seven people who tried to use fraudulent COVID-19 test results to travel to four different family islands between March 25 and 31.
On Monday, Samuel Colebrooke, 24, Janae Jolly, 25, and a 17-year-old girl, were charged for being in possession of a fake Doctors Hospital health system negative COVID-19 RT PCR test on March 26.
At the time, Jolly denied the allegation; however, when she appeared before Chief Magistrate Joyann Ferguson-Pratt on Thursday, she admitted the offence. The other two accused also maintained their guilty pleas.
The court heard that morning, the three accused presented the forged negative COVID tests to a Western Airline agent at the airport using their cell phones. After the agent checked them in for travel, they stopped at the COVID check point where they showed the fake tests to an ambassador. When the official inspected the electronic documents, she suspected the test results were forged. As a result, she reported the matter to the airport police station. The accused were subsequently taken into custody, while their tests were submitted to Doctors Hospital’s lab to validate their authenticity. The court was told that medical personnel from the health facility later confirmed the tests were fraudulent and were not utilised or issued from their system.
According to the prosecution, Colebrooke and the teen girl both lived in Andros and were trying to return home after visiting New Providence. They, along with Jolly, were fined $1,200 or eight weeks in prison for possessing the fake tests.
They were sentenced minutes before Theran Evans, 36, Alicia Stuart, 32, and Marilyn Crosdale, 33, who also admitted possessing and uttering the fake COVID tests when they attempted to travel on March 31.
The prosecution said Evans, who was planning to travel to Eleuthera, was taken into custody after his test results were suspected to have been falsified. The court also heard that day, a COVID ambassador at LPIA, accompanied by Stuart and Crosdale, presented to police what appeared to be two other forged tests that prompted the women’s arrest. When questioned by officers, Crosdale said she was travelling to Abaco.
During the hearing, her attorney also told the magistrate that his client had made plans to travel to the island to attend the funeral service of a family member who had died suddenly.
Stuart also said she was trying to travel to Abaco for the funeral. She added that her sons were in Marsh Harbour and stated she was also anxious to see the island as she had not visited it since Hurricane Dorian.
After accepting their guilty pleas, Magistrate Ferguson-Pratt fined the accused $1,200 for having the fake tests and another $1,200 for uttering them. She said if they didn’t pay the fines that day they would spend eight weeks on remand.
Edroy Rolle was also fined $2,400 for the offences after he attempted to use the fake test to travel to Exuma on March 25. The prosecution said when Rolle was arrested, he told officers he was a DJ and his cousin had sent him the fake test because he wanted him to play at a function on the island that weekend.
After sentencing the accused, Magistrate Ferguson-Pratt noted that the “whole Bahamas'' could have been compromised if the accused had been successful in passing off the fake tests. She said the country was in a “real pandemic” that had a significant impact on the nation and insisted everyone had to cooperate with the rules and regulations, which had to be enforced.
Magistrate Ferguson-Pratt said the actions of the accused were “unacceptable.” Their conduct also implicated Doctors Hospital, “one of the premier health institutions” in the country in “apparent skullduggery”. She insisted the people who issued the fake tests also had to be charged as they were the real masterminds.