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Murder Convict Fails To Release $11.4m Freeze

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

A convict serving a 50-year sentence for murder has failed in a bid to overturn an Order that froze up to $11.4m of his assets held by Bahamian financial institutions.

Acting justice Tara Cooper-Burnside, in an October 29 ruling, declined Jeffrey Allan Pearson’s bid to overturn a restraint Order obtained by the Attorney General’s Office at the behest of the US Justice Department in relation to a separate case brought against him.

Pearson was charged almost 13 years ago with operating a fraudulent telemarketing scheme from Costa Rica and elsewhere but, before he could be extradited to southern Florida to face those accusations in federal court, he was convicted for murder in the central American nation and is currently serving his 50-year sentence there.

“On March 5, 2010, a US federal court in Florida granted a post-indictment restraining order against Mr Pearson to preserve the availability of certain assets, including assets allegedly held at certain banks in The Bahamas,” acting justice Cooper-Burnside noted.

While the banks involved are not named in the judgment, she added that the US Justice Department employed its Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) with The Bahamas to request on April 1, 2010, that the Attorney General’s Office obtain a restraining Order to freeze Pearson’s alleged assets.

“The letter of request stated that Mr Pearson kept most of the proceeds from the fraudulent scheme in certain bank accounts in The Bahamas, and requested that any funds in the accounts up to $11.4m be frozen as a preliminary step to forfeiture under US law,” acting justice Cooper-Burnside wrote.

“The Letter of Request also stated that, although the US Department of Justice had sought Mr Pearson’s extradition, he remained incarcerated in Costa Rica pursuant to a local investigation regarding his alleged involvement in multiple murders in Costa Rica.

“It is not clear when, but subsequent to the date on which the restraint Order was granted, Mr Pearson was charged and convicted in Costa Rica for the offences for which he was being investigated at the date of the restraint Order. He was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 50 years and is currently serving that sentence.”

The judgment did not explain why Pearson was suddenly challenging the restraint Order from behind bars some 11 years after it was first imposed by the Supreme Court. The convict and his attorneys, Gail Lockhart-Charles and Lisa Esfakis, argued that the Order should fall away because US proceedings had not progressed to the point where forfeiture would occur a decade later.

And Pearson also produced evidence from a Costa Rican attorney to show he was now a Costa Rican citizen, and that nation did not allow its citizens to be extradited. However, the Attorney General’s Office countered by arguing that the US extradition request remains outstanding and that criminal charges are still pending.

It added that the funds allegedly held in The Bahamas accounts could not be forfeited without a criminal conviction in the US courts, and this cannot happen until Pearson serves his Costa Rican sentence and is extradited - an event that may never happen given the length of the 50-year sentence.

Mrs Lockhart-Charles argued that “a foreign state should not be allowed to retain a restraining order when there is no prospect that the proceedings can be prosecuted”, and that they could not be “left open ended” under the Proceeds of Crime Act given that it could be 40 years before US proceedings against Pearson restart.

However, acting justice Cooper-Burnside said she was “not persuaded” that the reasons for the restraint Order had fallen away. “It is the view of this court that to discharge the restraint Order in circumstances of this particular case would likely undermine the efficient workings of the proceeds of crime regime and be out of step with the legislative steer of the 2018 Act,” she ruled.

“Furthermore, in light of the purpose to be served by the restraint Order, it is the view of this court that Parliament cannot have intended for the restraint Order to be discharged if the related criminal proceedings are still viable.”

Pearson and his co-conspirators were accused of operating a “business opportunity” fraud involving beverage and greeting card activities. They induced victims to buy so-called “business opportunities” via a variety of fake companies such as USA Beverages Inc, Twin Peaks Gourmet Coffee, Cards-R-Us, Premier Cards and The Coffee Man.

Persons paid “at least $10,000” to access opportunities they were falsely promised would generate significant profits. Each business operated for several months, then closed, and a new one would emerge.

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