PHILIPSBURG–Three neighbours at Peterson Plaza apartment complex were sentenced by the Court on Wednesday to prison from six weeks to four months for looting after Hurricane Irma struck St. Maarten on September 6, 2017.
Contractor Balisario Garcia (54) confessed that two days after the hurricane his neighbour Jeffry A. Peterson (52) had asked him to do him a favour by lending him his truck to pick up items from the side of the road.
Garcia told the Court he had taken his neighbour to the location himself, because his truck was brand new and he wanted to drive the vehicle himself.
On location, there proved to be a lot of people. They loaded a refrigerator and washer/drier that belonged to Unicomer Group on the truck and returned home.
Garcia admitted he had taken part in the post-hurricane “frenzy” and had received three mobile phones, a microwave and printer for his services.
Peterson denied he had taken part in looting. “I did not go out to loot myself,” he told the Court. He said the appliances belonged to a neighbour who had asked him to receive them as he would leave the island and another person would come to pick them up.
Peterson’s wife Fanny (39) also said the washing machine did not belong to her.
Their 21-year-old daughter, who is seriously ill and was not present at the trial for medical reasons, and their son (18) were also charged by the Prosecutor’s Office, but acquitted for lack of evidence.
The Prosecutor also found the children guilty and demanded that the Court sentence them to two weeks suspended, with 40 hours community service. Their parents should be sentenced to one month suspended, with 80 hours community service, whereas Garcia was to be sentenced to four months.
The Prosecutor held it against Garcia that, being a businessman himself, he had contributed to damage suffered by a colleague. Unicomer did not sustain any damage in the hurricane, but looters caused US $100,000 in damage, the Prosecutor said.
He also demanded confiscation of the truck, as it had been used to commit crimes in the same manner as a go-fast in committing drug crimes.
Attorney Jason Rogers said Garcia had merely wanted to help his “good” neighbour by doing him the favour of picking up two “abandoned items” on the side of the road.
“It was bad judgement that he did not turn back when he saw a lot of people, but there was no plan to actually loot the place,” Rogers said.
The lawyer said his client, who runs a construction company with 30 employees, had assisted with clearing debris after the hurricane.
The Prosecutor was “overrating” the situation, Rogers said, He called the Prosecutor’s demand “unwarranted” and “disproportionate,” and said his client should not be sent to jail. The truck should be returned to its rightful owner.
In representing the Petersons, attorney Remco Stomp said he understood the Prosecutor’s zeal to combat looting, but said he was going too far in his attempt to burden the children with criminal records.
The Judge followed the Prosecutor’s demand in Garcia’s case, as he had played a major role in the misappropriation of stolen goods by making his truck available. Therefore, the Judge also ordered the confiscation of the truck.
The Court did not buy Mr. and Mrs. Peterson’s story that they were keeping the stolen items for a person, and found them guilty of the deliberate fencing of stolen property. The Judge stated that the Prosecutor’s demand did not do justice to the actual situation and sentenced them both to six weeks unconditional.
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/72641-neighbours-sentenced-for-looting-children-go-free