~ Brooks’ lawyers call for full acquittal ~
PHILIPSBURG–Prosecutor Martin van Nes requested that the Court of First Instance sentence criminal lawyer Brenda Brooks to six months’ unconditional imprisonment on charges of bribery and inciting an immigration employee to abuse her position.
Brooks stood trial on Wednesday and the courtroom was filled with her family members and friends.
Brooks was arrested and detained on February 22, 2017, and released due to health reasons on February 24. According to the Prosecutor, it was discovered during the “Ostrich” investigation, as a result of seizing a phone with WhatsApp conversations between a number of suspects, that Brooks allegedly had bribed Immigration officers J.M. and K.B. to allow two undocumented persons working for NAGICO Insurances to enter the island in 2016.
Brooks had a full legal team consisting of lawyers Sjamira Roseburg, Peggy- Ann Brandon, Nerissa de La Rosa and Shaira Bommel. In their pleadings, the lawyers said, “Our system is one that supports the premise that the evidence should lead to the truth (conclusion), contrary to what we face nowadays.
“Our system is now used to find evidence to support the conclusion drawn by Prosecutors even before the evidence is gathered. We shall prove to this court that contrary to the belief of the Prosecutor based on a reading of a WhatsApp conversation, Brenda Brooks neither had the intent to nor committed a criminal act.
“Your Honour, when it is all said and done, both Prosecution and defence have presented their viewpoints, it is up to you to make an assessment of the evidence brought forward by the Prosecution and the conviction that may be drawn by you that the criminal acts in the indictment are or are not supported.
“The defence wants to close as follows: Brenda Brooks could have never imagined that her inquisitive nature, and her words expressed in that light would have brought her here today. For in fact it’s only because of that second WhatsApp conversation that Brenda Brooks is here today,” stated the defence lawyers.
“We can never dictate how people respond to a situation, as their response is powered by an internal thinking. Always seeking justice, always trying to find the truth, always allowing people to correct themselves and redeem themselves, not jumping to conclusions, is who Brenda Brooks really is.
“That and her inquisitive nature are the reasons for a short period of time that she entertained the conversation with Marlin. No other reason, no other intent, which is clear, as when she decided she had enough of the nonsense she broke off the conversation and went her way. Brenda Brooks is cut out of a different cloth, always seeking justice and not fearing to fight for it. This person and her attitude are not the person the prosecutor tried to describe here today.”
Prosecutor van Es asked the judge to convict the suspect. He said the “Ostrich” investigation has been deemed by the defence to specifically focus on Brooks.
“However, this is far from the truth,” the Prosecutor stated.
The evidence against Brooks was coincidentally found when the phone of another suspect was seized. Bribing Immigration officials in any manner seriously damages confidence in the government.
“Public policy on illegal residency and entry was seriously undermined. On a small island like St. Maarten with many incoming and outgoing visitors the importance of a well-functioning border control system cannot be sufficiently emphasised,” he said.
The Prosecutor also requested that the judge bar Brooks from her post on NAGICO’s supervisory board. He pointed out that as supervisory director, she should have supervised management and operations of the insurance company, rather than committing such a crime.
“Suspect Brooks has not taken responsibility for the offences and although she had resigned from the supervisory board of the insurance company, there is still the risk of repetition,” stated the Prosecutor.
He also believes that Brooks abused her position as a criminal lawyer and has damaged the trust that society can and should place in lawyers. The Prosecutor suggests that the lawyers Bar Association of St. Maarten discuss this case with Brooks, as the Association is the organisation with primary responsibility. He said the ball is first and foremost in the Bar Association’s court on this point.
In the “Ostrich” investigation a number of Immigration officials were sentenced to severe unconditional prison sentences for, among other things, human-smuggling, bribery, abuse of function and participation in a criminal organisation.
Brooks’ final words
It is customary for the suspect in any criminal case to have the final word and it was no different for Brooks.
“ I stand before you today in this courtroom, my workplace, a place I hold in high honour and with utmost respect, to defend my integrity. Not my innocence, because I am not guilty of a crime.
“As you would have understood by now, myself like several other attorneys constantly feel targeted by prosecutors who come to this island and act as they please, break laws and get away with it because they carry the title ‘prosecutor.’
“One of those same persons is now trying to convince this court and the public in whose interest they claim to be working that I am a criminal and that I deserve a punishment. Mind you, the same person who tried to purchase a jeep in St. Maarten from one of our auto dealers with cash monies surpassing the NAf. 20,000 and refusing to declare the source of income in order for the company to comply with the FIU laws and regulations,” said Brooks during her final thoughts to the judge.
“Who investigated Mr. Prosecutor for money laundering? Since the departure of the group Manon Ridderbeks, Rienk Mud and Hans Mos, myself like many others have had a very tumultuous relationship with the prosecutors on this island.
“I have seen quite a few violate the laws during my time and they are usually sent off without any form of explanation to the public and are not held accountable for their actions, from the one who hit and ran in Middle Region, to the one who had an affair with a suspect’s girlfriend and decided to feed the girlfriend with information from the case, to one taking pictures of documents during house search with her own camera and denying looking at the pictures, to the prosecutor who walks in a dealership with US $13,000 in cash to buy a navy blue Ford Explorer and refuses to declare the source of the funds,” Brooks told the judge.
“One of the last prosecutors was whisked away back to Holland after he messed up the procedures in a double homicide case and bluntly lied to the court. And not to forget one of the most recent occurrences with the prosecutors which hit front page of The Daily Herald on February 5, 2018.
“Who is Brenda Brooks? I am born St. Maarten, daughter of well-known and respected persons in this community, raised by well-known respectable public figures, and many look up to me. Reason is very simple: I am an honest, straightforward person with a big mouth but yet a huge heart, always willing to help when help is needed.
“I became an attorney by choice, to help those in need of legal assistance, and, for the record, I didn’t choose this profession for the financial gain. As my mentor, my colleague, my neighbour and most importantly my friend who knows who I am and without me uttering a word would have been able to read the WhatsApp conversation and know exactly what I was trying to figure out and why.
“I am who I am and I cannot change that, but I am not a criminal and no crime was ever intended or even committed to say the least. Anyone who knows me knows that I would never do anything to jeopardise my career or my reputation, because I stand for who I am.
“The sad part about this case is that this prosecutor fully well knows the truth, knowing the type of person I am and knowing that several months before the events played out I warned the prosecutor that I would expose his wrongdoings and reminded him that he too was obliged to comply with our laws.
“Today, I am here before the same court, yet in a different setting, and I must say that to some extent I do have faith in the court system and I expect my case to be reviewed properly and that I should be judged based on my actions and not based on wrongful accusations presented by the Prosecutor’s Office.
“Your Honour, I look at myself every day in the mirror and I love the person I see. I sleep like a log at night with a clear and clean conscience. Can the prosecutor say the same? The prosecutor is fully aware of what exactly transpired, yet he and some of his colleagues used an opportunity to launch a personal attack against me. Although the attack was designed to break me, it only made me stronger.
In closing, Brooks told the judge, “I would like to say that I will continue to fight for my people and do the work I was designed to do and that work will be done in my Country St. Maarten/St. Martin. Unlike others who come temporarily and have to leave when time is up, I am home and I am here to stay.
“I will not allow this escapade or others to deter me and definitely no man will come into my country and stop me from working. At the end of the day I have to live with my people, while the prosecutors come here, do their damage and then leave.
“Your Honour, I am Innocent.”
The court will announce the verdict on Wednesday, May 30.
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/76466-brooks-facing-six-months-unconditional-prison-time