Four more charged in Trinidad flood relief scam

Mandisa Stewart leaves the Port-of-Spain Magistrates’ Court yesterday, after appearing on fraud charges involving flood relief cheque distribution.

(Trinidad Guardian) – Four more peo­ple have been im­pli­cat­ed in a flood re­lief grant scam. Po­lice sources said Fri­day that Fraud Squad de­tec­tives ar­rest­ed and charged four new sus­pects and one of the ten that were pre­vi­ous­ly charged over the scam on Thurs­day.

The group was ex­pect­ed to ap­pear in the Port-of-Spain Mag­is­trate’s Court to an­swer the charges on Friday but po­lice were forced to resched­ule their court ap­pear­ance as it co­in­cid­ed with the pre­lim­i­nary in­quiry in­to the mur­der of for­mer In­de­pen­dent Sen­a­tor Dana See­ta­hal, SC.

Dur­ing week­ly hear­ings of the See­ta­hal case, the court does not fa­cil­i­tate peo­ple mak­ing their first appear­ance in court due to strin­gent se­cu­ri­ty mea­sures put in place for See­ta­hal’s pre­lim­i­nary in­quiry. The ac­cused fraud­sters are ex­pect­ed to ap­pear in court tomorrow. 

Last Mon­day, 10 peo­ple, in­clud­ing a Min­istry of So­cial De­vel­op­ment and Fam­i­ly Ser­vices em­ploy­ee, were charged with fraud in con­nec­tion with flood re­lief grants. They are Far­rah Han­iff, Heather Grif­fith-Benjamin, Michael Alex­is, Car­ol Christo­pher-Ben­nett, Deb­bie Critchlow, Adele­phia Lal­lion, Ajay Ramlakhan, Ram­lakhan’s com­mon-law wife Man­disa Stew­art, Dar­ren Bal­con and his com­mon-law wife Ro­hi­ni Persad.

Han­iff, a clerk at the Min­istry of So­cial De­vel­op­ment and Fam­i­ly Ser­vices, is sole­ly fac­ing five charges for forg­ing and ut­ter­ing five of the min­istry’s emer­gency re­lief and re­cov­ery as­sis­tance forms which were used to ob­tain the grants. She is joint­ly charged with Grif­fith-Ben­jamin, Alex­is, Christo­pher-Ben­nett, Ram­lakhan and Stew­art for fraud­u­lent­ly ob­tain­ing the grants by pre­tend­ing to be vic­tims of flood­ing, which dev­as­tat­ed parts of La Hor­quet­ta, St He­le­na and Kel­ly Vil­lage and Ca­roni in mid-Oc­to­ber.

Critchlow, Lal­lion, Bal­con and Per­sad are charged sep­a­rate­ly with fraud­u­lent ob­tain­ing two grants that were paid to Bal­con and Critchlow. The of­fences are al­leged to have tak­en place be­tween Oc­to­ber 25 and No­vem­ber 13.

Since the flood­ing on Oc­to­ber 19, the min­istry has re­port­ed­ly dis­trib­uted over $80 mil­lion in re­lief grants to over 5,000 fam­i­lies across T&T. Each house­hold re­ceived be­tween $15,000 and $20,000 de­pend­ing on if they had chil­dren.

Speak­ing at a Peo­ple’s Na­tion­al Move­ment (PNM) pub­lic meet­ing at City Hall in Port-of-Spain on Thursday night, Prime Min­is­ter Dr Kei­th Row­ley re­vealed that $45 mil­lion out of the $118 mil­lion al­lo­cat­ed by the Gov­ern­ment for vic­tims of flood­ing in north­east Trinidad last month was stolen by fraud­sters.

Row­ley stat­ed that the min­istry was now con­duct­ing an au­dit in­to the fraud while po­lice con­tin­ue to inves­ti­gate it.  

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