(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.