Fraud allegations hit trucking chief's estate


Tribune Business Editor


Fraud allegations have ensnared the estate of a former Independent Truckers Association chairman over the true ownership of two heavy equipment vehicles.

Maurice Russell, a former two-decade business partner of the late Gus Outten, proprietor of Gus Outten Trucking, is claiming that a Bill of Sale purporting to show the two trucks were sold to the latter is fraudulent and he is their rightful owner.

The allegations were disclosed in a July 28, 2023, ruling by senior Supreme Court justice, Deborah Fraser, who ordered that Mr Russell be provided with the location of the 2007 Kenworth Tractor Truck and 2007 International 9400 Semi Truck within seven days and allowed to inspect "their current condition and state of disrepair" at his own expense.

Mr Outten's former business partner had also sought a Supreme Court Order to prevent the judicial trustees, appointed to locate and secure assets belonging to Mr Outten's estate, from selling or otherwise disposing of the vehicles. However, the issue became moot after Mark Munnings, the Deloitte & Touche accountant and partner, and his colleague Tiphaney Russell, in their capacity as trustees, guaranteed their would be no sale until the ownership dispute is resolved.

Senior justice Fraser, meanwhile, concluded that there was "a serious issue" to be tried over the fraud allegations as Mr Russell had produced several documents suggesting he "may very well be the true owner of the trucks". These included copies of title documents from Kentucky and Florida relating to the white truck, and title transfer documents from the latter state.

However, the Bahamian Bill of Sale naming the late Mr Outten as the true owner meant there "is a clear conflict" that the Supreme Court will have to untangle during a substantive trial at a later date. Given the preliminary nature of the orders sought by Mr Russell, senior justice Fraser did not delve deeply into the veracity of either side's evidence.

Her ruling, though, revealed that Mr Munnings and his team had to enlist the Royal Bahamas Police Force during October 18-19, 2022, to retrieve and secure both disputed vehicles after the white truck was taken to Potter's Cay Dock where it was about to be transported to Mr Russell's native Cat Island.

Mr Russell and his attorney, Lisa Clarke-Esfakis, alleged that he had suffered "financial loss and serious mental distress" through not being able to access and use the trucks in his business, New Bight-based MLR Earthmoving and Heavy Equipment, and their sale would cause "irreparable damage".

Yet the Deloitte & Touche trustees, represented by Opposition senator, Michaela Barnett-Ellis, asserted that they had incurred "significant expenses" in dealing with the trucks' ownership. They were also coming under pressure from the executors and beneficiaries of Mr Outten's estate, who are Marjoire Outten, Shoanrio Outten, Standord Outten Jr., Shavanna Outten and Shekira Outten, to return estate assets under threat of legal action.

The late Mr Outten, a well-known figure in the trucking and construction industries also known as 'Big Jew', was chair of the Independent Truckers Association when it staged a February 2011 demonstration to obtain a better price for hauling building debris and materials from the Baha Mar work site. The contractor involved in the dispute, records from the time show, was Jimmy Mosko's Island Site Development (ISD).

Mr Russell, in his evidence, alleged that he met Mr Outten in 2001 "and they began business together as they both owned heavy equipment businesses and used their respective equipment for various projects. An oral agreement was made between the claimant [Mr Russell] and the deceased whereby the deceased agreed to allow the claimant to use the deceased’s property to store the claimant’s heavy equipment in Nassau.

"The claimant’s heavy equipment was used by the deceased (with consent from the claimant) on various projects and the deceased would share the profit with the claimant. The deceased would assist in the sale and lease of the claimant’s equipment. The business arrangement between the claimant and the deceased was known to the deceased’s family," senior justice Fraser recorded.

Mr Russell claimed that he purchased both the disputed trucks. The Kenworth Truck, he alleged, was imported on November 2, 2017, and stored on Mr Outten's property. The latter also purportedly offered to clear the white truck's importation with Bahamas Customs.

The Cat Island-based businessman informed the Outten family some months after Gus Outten passed that he owned the trucks, writing a letter to this effect to them and their then-attorney. The judicial trustees were then subsequently appointed by the Supreme Court to act on its behalf to locate, secure and value all assets, and determine which were the property of Mr Outten's estate.

To determine ownership, the Deloitte & Touche accountants contacted banks, insurance companies and government agencies. A report of their findings was then submitted to the Supreme Court, including their discoveries relating to the two disputed vehicles.

"Information gathered by the judicial trustees from the Government of The Bahamas revealed that the deceased was the owner of the trucks for the purposes of his business formerly known as Gus Outten Trucking," senior justice Fraser wrote.

"It was established that the claimant [Mr Russell] did import the Kenworth Truck, but that it was subsequently sold to the deceased through a Bill of Sale. This was confirmed from the records of the Department of Road Traffic which revealed that the deceased possessed a license, insurance and registration in relation to the Kenworth Truck."

Mr Russell, though, said that when he visited the late Mr Outten's property some nine months after his death he found "the trucks were not being regularly repaired/maintained". Nevertheless, he was told by Mr Outten's family not to remove the vehicles until the estate's affairs were brought into order.

This, though, was seemingly ignored as Deloitte & Touche had to employ the police to repossess the white truck just as it was about to be shipped to Cat Island by Mr Russell in October 2022. The latter, though, alleged that Marjorie and Shonario Outten, both beneficiaries of the estate, had told him they were concerned about "the significant legal expenses" being incurred as a result of the judicial trustees' actions.

Mr Munnings, in response, said the judicial trustees on October 26, 2022, wrote to Mr Russell inviting him to participate in the legal proceedings involving the Gus Outten estate and allow the Supreme Court to determine the trucks' ownership.

Senior justice Fraser, referring to the arguments presented by Ms Clarke-Esfakis on Mr Russell's behalf, wrote: "She... intends to plead that the purported Bill of Sale of the trucks from the claimant to the deceased is fraudulent. She submits that there is evidence confirming the true ownership, which will be relied on at the trial of the action....

"The claimant’s counsel submits that the claimant timeously informed the [Mr Munnings] about the claimant’s ownership of the vehicle since October 1, 2021, yet the matter remains extant. Counsel submits that, as the matter remains unresolved to date, the claimant has suffered financial loss and serious mental distress in managing his business and fulfilling financial and emotional obligations to his family."

However, Senator Ellis, for the judicial trustees, alleged that Mr Russell had failed to act with sufficient haste given the nature of his claim and this proved there was "no matter of urgency". She also argued that he had failed to provide "substantial evidence" to prove his ownership of the vehicles.

Yet senior justice Fraser concluded: "The Russell affidavit exhibits documents which suggest that the claimant may very well be the true owner of the trucks. A cursory view of the Bill of Sale also indicates that the deceased is the owner. There is a clear conflict here which the court ought to determine after considering and hearing evidence at the substantial trial. The subject matter of the trial will be ownership of the trucks – which both parties agree are in substantial dispute....

"I believe there is some credible material regarding the claimant’s purported ownership of the trucks. He provides several pieces of evidence in the Russell affidavit which purport to confirm ownership of the white truck, namely copies of the Commonwealth of Kentucky certificate of title, transfer of title by owner and the state of Florida motor vehicle title reassignment settlement certificate from the initial owner to the claimant relating to the white truck.

"The court views this as credible material upon which the claimant may bring this application. I note that there is mention of a Customs vehicle information invoice of the Kenworth truck, but this does not necessarily mean that the claimant is the owner of it."


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