Three convictions and two acquittals in Ostrich case

PHILIPSBURG–The Court of First Instance on Wednesday meted out a prison sentence of 20 months and a five-year ban on working within the civil service against the 37-year-old main suspect in the so-called Ostrich investigation involving five members of the Immigration and Border Protection Service (IBPS) at Princess Juliana International Airport SXM. They were all suspected of human trafficking, bribery, accepting bribes and abusing their authority as civil servants, and were also charged with membership in a criminal organisation.

The lengthy investigation, which started in April 2016, resulted in a voluminous case file including 12 separate cases concerning the illegal admittance of foreign nationals, mainly from Jamaica, Haiti and Guyana.

Main suspect Jahaira Marlin (37) held her right hand in front of her face when the Judge read out her sentence, informing her that the Court had found it legally and convincingly proven that on several occasions in 2016 she had granted persons illegal entry to St. Maarten in exchange of payment, or as a favour. The Court found it proven that Marlin had cooperated in the scheme together with several co-workers.

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During the hearing of this case on July 19, the Prosecutor had called for a two-year prison sentence, but considering the fact that she is a first-offender, has a minor child in her care and has health issues, the Court decided to impose a lesser sentence.

Co-defendant Kizzy L.M. Baptist (35) was sentenced to 14 months, and a five-year ban, on similar charges. In her case, the Prosecutor’s Office had called for a prison sentence of 18 months.

IBPS-worker Alicia A. Dormoy received 184 days and a five-year ban on working as a civil servant, for her part in the scheme. The Prosecutor had called for 12 months, three of which were to be suspended, on two years’ probation, and a five-year ban, on two counts of human smuggling, which the defendants themselves had described as “jobs.”

The Court found it proven that at least once Dormoy had abused her position as an Immigration Officer, and had cooperated with her co-suspects. Hence, membership in a criminal organisation was also found proven.

 Suspects D.M.M. (33) and B.M.B. (44) showed signs of great relief when they heard the Judge pronounce they were innocent and would be acquitted of all charges.

   In their cases, the Prosecutor had called for prison sentences of nine months, six of which were to be suspended, on two years’ probation, and 180 hours of community service, or 90 days in jail, in case of non-compliance.

The Prosecutor’s Office called the Ostrich investigations an “all-time low” in civil corruption. “The severity points at the ease in which they [suspects – Ed.] abused their position to assist foreigners one after the other, by messing around with papers and stamps, and in providing them illegal entry,” the Prosecutor said during last month’s hearing.

The case file is full with wiretapped telephone conversations and WhatsApp chats about “jobs,” persons who need to enter, about changing shifts and pictures in order to recognise travellers to St. Maarten, and how much money they had to ask, the Prosecutor said in his closing speech.

“The Immigration workers knew how to find each other. It’s an oiled machine, in which they only needed half a word to understand each other. ‘This is my link,’ ‘I got a job,’ ‘Make sure you’re at departures,’ ‘A friend of mine enters,’ ‘I need a favour,’ were among the messages they sent to each other.”

Team leaders did not ask any questions when shifts were changed, the Prosecutor said in painting a picture of an organisation that seemed to be driven by giving family members, relatives, friends, and friends of friends all kinds of favours.

Team leader B.M.B. and Immigration Officer D.M.M., however, were both acquitted by the Court for lack of evidence.

All lawyers had pleaded for the full acquittal of their clients, except for Shamira Roseburg who said Baptiste’s confession about stamping her husband’s passport constituted one case of human smuggling, but not of bribery.

Several members of the defence stated that most of the evidence presented by the Prosecutor’s Office against their clients was circumstantial. The Prosecutor’s Office and the defendants have two weeks’ time to file for appeal.

Lawyer B.B.B. (41) is also suspected of involvement in the scheme. Her case will be dealt with by the Court at a later date. She is suspected of offering $200 to Marlin and Baptiste to admit two persons into St. Maarten who were “overstayed.” B.B.B. allegedly had urged Marlin to not “give them a hard time.” B.B.B. allegedly had done this in her capacity as board member of insurance company NAGICO. The illegal persons in question were NAGICO employees.

Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/68186-three-convictions-and-two-acquittals-in-ostrich-case

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