PHILIPSBURG–The Court dealt with several looting-related cases on Wednesday during the first public criminal sitting after Hurricane Irma at the Courthouse, which reopened Monday. It concerned two cases of purchasing stolen goods and one case of theft. A fourth case involving five suspects was postponed until a later date.
The Prosecutor and the Judge both did not mince words in condemning these crimes, which were committed between September 5 and September 28.
They both said that Irma, which struck the island on September 6, had dealt St. Maarten the first blow, but the looting of stores, businesses and homes that followed was the second blow to the island.
Irma caused much grief and destruction, the Prosecutor said, but the aftermath during which people went out stealing “like crazy” he described as a moral low.
“People did not go out to save lives or to rebuild the island, but for their own gain and profit, resulting in total chaos, destruction and despair,” the Prosecutor said about the large-scale theft that took place in the days after the hurricane, “which brought St. Maarten to the edge of the abyss.”
With the damage caused by Irma still clearly visible outside and inside the monumental Courthouse, the Prosecutor held it against suspect Francisco Cabrera Ozorio (24) that he had bought a stolen vehicle, a Kia, from an unknown person in the days after the storm.
“We’re not talking about some candy or a couple of bottles of water, but about a prized possession and an essential,” the Prosecutor said, calling for acquittal on the additional charges of theft of an air-conditioner unit and outboard motor for lack of evidence.
The Judge sentenced the defendant, according to the Prosecutor’s demand, to four months, with deduction of 25 days spent in pre-trial detention.
Attorney Geert Hatzmann, who branded “looting” the word of the year 2017, called attention to his client’s “gruesome” detention in a cell at the Philipsburg police station.
“It was total craziness at the cellblock, without water and in a stifling heat,” the lawyer explained.
Hatzmann said he had in the meantime dealt with tens of looting cases. “Sometimes, it concerns desperate people without any future. Tourism is on its back and people are being sent home with a pittance. Opportunity makes the thief, as the saying goes. My client, who is a [gypsy – Ed.] taxi driver can forget it. As an illegal resident he will be sent off the island,” he said.
Bryan Leroy Louisy (21) was sentenced to six months suspended and 120 hours of community service, for buying two vacuum cleaners, an air conditioner and a weedwhacker for US $170 from a couple of juveniles. They had stolen the electric appliances from Kooyman hardware store.
The police were tipped off and found the appliances in the original packages at the suspect’s house.
The Prosecutor called on the Court to find the defendant guilty of fencing of stolen goods and recommended a six-week prison term. He said the defendant had “ordered” the items to be taken from the store.
Attorney Marlon Hart said theft could not be proven, adding that he was “not so sure whether the items were purposely bought.”
Louisy, who had spent five days in preventive custody, was convicted of misappropriation of stolen goods, which, the Judge said, “is just as bad as looting.”
Terry Sam (28) was sentenced to 10 weeks for stealing two hampers full of brand-name clothing, no fewer than 29 cartons of cigarettes and some canned food and water bottles from Carrefour supermarket in Cupecoy.
The items of clothing were still in the original packages, with the price tags on, when the police found them during a search of the suspect’s house.
The Carrefour employee told the Court that his manager, who had given him shelter from the storm, had told him to take anything he needed. However, the manager told the police he had never given any permission.
The Prosecutor said looters had abused the emergency after the hurricane out of greed and at the expense of hardworking businesspeople. “As a result, companies went bankrupt and have decided to leave St. Maarten and not to return,” he said.