Jail time and community service for couple that defrauded Usona

POSTED: 09/29/11 2:00 PM

St. Maarten – The Court in First Instance sentenced Joan Theresa Sandy-Forde, 42, and her husband Neville Junior Hermitt Forde, 54, for forgery and fraud at the expense of the development fund for the (former) Netherlands Antilles Usona. Sandy Forde was sentenced to 10 months imprisonment, of which 5 months are suspended. Her husband received an 8-month conditional prison sentence and he has to do 180 hours of community service. Judge mr. M. Keppels imposed a 3-year probation period for both defendants.

Sandy-Forde worked at the I Can Foundation doing community service for an earlier conviction. Together with her husband she owns a company called Personalized Creations. This company a gave the company a 10 percent down payment on a 400,000 guilders contract, but when Personalized Creations ran out of money to buy the goods it had to deliver to the I Can Foundation, and banks refused them credit, Sandy-Forde and her husband became creative.

The company sent invoices to the I Can Foundation for goods that had not been delivered yet, and Sandy-Forde authorized these invoices in her function at the foundation.

Defense attorney mr. B.B. Brooks said that Cassandra Gibbs, the director of I can, was fully aware of this scheme to get the project completed, but that she panicked after she had talked to a Mrs. Ortega at Usona and accidentally told her that not all goods had been delivered, while Usona had already paid for them. “That is why Gibbs quickly went to the police to file a complaint against my clients,” Brooks said.

Forde told the court that he had acted with the best of intentions. “All we wanted to do was finish the project,” he said. His wife, who was personally declared bankrupt in 2007 – a condition that still exists today according to HBN Law attorney Hendrich Seferina who handled the bankruptcy case – said that she did not see her involvement in both her company and the I Can Foundation as a conflict of interest.

Neville Forde told the court that the company had delivered between 75 and 80 percent of all the goods mentioned in the contract. The deadline for delivering the rest was February 28 of this year, but after Gibbs filed the complaint, the Forde’s were arrested on February 8 and not released until April 14.

Judge Keppels pointed out that Sandy-Forde has a 2008 conviction for embezzlement to her name, and that her husband was once fined for a tax-violation.

Prosecutor mr. G. van der Wulp noted that the couple, once it realized that there was not enough money to execute the contract, had taken a wrong decision. “They committed forgery by sending in false invoices and by approving the delivery lists that came with them.” Van der Wulp considered forgery proven, as well as fraud, because they had used false invoices to get Usona to pay out the money. “There is no money left to deliver the remaining goods,” the prosecutor said. “This money belongs to the community. Administrations have to be reliable; Mrs. Sandy-Forde has been convicted for embezzlement before. She should have known better.”

mr. van der Wulp said that Sandy-Forde had already had a chance to change her ways, and that this time community service was insufficient punishment. She demanded 12 months imprisonment, with 5 months suspended against the woman, and an 8-month conditional sentence plus 240 hours of community service against Neville Forde.

Attorney Brooks asked the court to declare the prosecution inadmissible because the defendants had spent nine days without legal title in prison in April. She also mentioned other technical flaws, but Judge Keppels would later reject the request.

The attorney made a point of the fact that I Can Foundation director Cassandra Gibbs “knew very well what the Forde’s were doing. “It is not correct that she did not know anything. She went to the police but in fact Usona should have filed a complaint. The moment Gibbs got into trouble after talking to Mrs. Ortega she quickly went to the police to file a complaint.”

mr. Brooks played down the amount of money involved in the fraud. “It is not about 400,000 guilders, but maybe about 25 or 30 percent of that amount,” she said. She pointed out that Usona has filed a civil lawsuit against the couple.

mr. Brooks objected to the prosecutor’s demand of an unconditional prison sentence against Sandy-Forde. She referred to the Kinds Funland case, wherein defendant Seraphin Ann Marlin embezzled between $660,000 and $880,000 from her former employer Hollywood Casino. With the money she built Kids Funland in Cole Bay and she gave her husband a garage complete with a 120,000 guilder hydraulic bridge. Marlin was sentenced on August 31 to a 2-year conditional prison sentence and 240 hours of community service. She asked the court to impose a conditional prison sentence.

The attorney wondered why a flat screen TV and a fridge that had been confiscated by the public prosecutor’s office had been given for storage to the I Can Foundation.

Neville Forde bemoaned the fact that he has been made to look like a criminal while he had only the best of intentions.

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