‘Tumultuous cascade’: ex-minister to fight prison term

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United States Judge Kiyo Matsumoto on Tuesday afternoon sentenced former Government Minister Donville Inniss to 24 months in prison following his conviction in the Federal Court for the Eastern District of Brooklyn, New York, on January 17, 2020.

Inniss had been found guilty by jury of money laundering linked to bribe payments received from the Insurance Corporation of Barbados Limited (ICBL).

In addition to the jail sentence, Inniss will have two years supervisory probation where he will not be able to leave the USA. No fine or payment of restitution was imposed but an order of forfeiture was issued for approximately $36 000 related to the bribery charges.

While the defence requested that Inniss remain at liberty pending appeal, he was ordered to surrender himself to the Bureau of Corrections on July 30. Inniss’ new defence attorney Joel Hirschhorn requested confinement either in Florida or Alabama.

Inniss was accompanied in court today by his wife, Gail, childhood friend and former Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite, Q.C., and long-time friend and former diplomat the Reverend Guy Hewitt.

Addressing his circumstances in court for the first time today, Inniss said that for several months he questioned whether he “fully understood and appreciated the legal, moral, and ethical responsibilities of a Cabinet Minister in Barbados,” and asked himself how could he “knowingly participate in an act or acts of corruption?… how, when, and where did [he]create fictitious invoices?”

He noted that these questions were answered when others [former ICBL officers]with the protection of a “non-prosecutorial agreement by the US Department of Justice…admitted to doing such”. Inniss asserted that he did not advise any ICBL officers on BIDC contracts.

“Certainly, the former CEO of ICBL never asked me if any contracts were approved,” he added.

He told Judge Matsumoto that he had instructed his former counsel Anthony Ricco and Steven Legon, that the “untruthful statement from the other side” should have been challenged.

Inniss noted that he has been “charged, tried, and convicted” for allegedly using influence as a Cabinet minister to determine the issuance of an insurance contract on behalf of the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation (BIDC). However, he stated categorically that during his tenure as minister, “the BIDC was led by a Board of Directors and a management team who, to the best of my knowledge, conducted themselves in a professional manner.”

He stressed, “In keeping with the law governing the establishment and functioning [of the BIDC], the minister was restricted from exercising any undue influence on their affairs.”

He added: “Had I thought for one moment that any actions that I contemplated, facilitated, or otherwise engaged in were designed to be corrupt, I would have thought not once, twice or three times, I would have not done such. If I were aware of all that was being said within ICBL and other entities, I would have distanced myself. If I were aware that an act of receiving funds in the USA and all the attendant issues presented would have landed me in this situation today, I would have not been party to such.”

Inniss told the court that, unlike in the USA, “there are no specific laws regarding the financing of political campaigns in Barbados. As such, politicians invariably engage with and have their activities financed by and supported by private persons and corporate entities. The fact that the ICBL continues to be the principal insurer of most Government-related entities in Barbados is instructive.”

Inniss’ defence team told Barbados TODAY that they would be appealing the conviction as well as the sentence. The anticipated grounds for appeal include legal error, lack of sufficient evidence to support a guilty verdict and ineffective representation. The defence team said that to grant the appeal, the appellate court must find that these errors affected the outcome of the case.

If the initial judgment is reversed, the appellate court will send the case back to a lower court and order the trial court to take further action. It could also order that: a new trial be held, the trial court’s judgment be modified or corrected, or the trial court reconsider the facts, take additional evidence, or consider the case in light of a recent decision by the appellate court. A successful appeal could end the case altogether where the appellate court finds that there is insufficient evidence to retry Inniss. On July 31, 2020, Judge Matsumoto dismissed the initial appeal made by Inniss’ then counsel Ricco and Legon.

Inniss told the court today that he was “the first person convicted by use of the Barbadian 1929 Prevention of Corruption Act (POCA).” He also underscored the fact that this conviction “occurred in the US” and that the “court and all interested parties may not have benefited from a fuller discussion on the 1929 POCA and its application or lack thereof over the past 90 years…”

The former St James South Member of Parliament stated, “In 2010 the then Government recognized that the POCA was outdated and in dire need of major changes to bring the law into some semblance of relationship with Government, people, and politics.”

The US Court was advised that the law “predated the establishment of Cabinet Government, the 1966 Constitution of Barbados and several other laws, structures, policies, and programmes.” He also pointed out that “after several attempts” to overhaul the legislation completely, it remains on the statute books of Barbados.

Inniss told Judge Matsumoto that he had lost his “dignity, respect, relationships, and hope” over the past 32 months whilst confined to the USA. “I was often reluctant to tell others exactly what I have experienced or how I have suffered over the past 32 months,” Inniss said. He admitted that he kept his emotional and psychological state to himself “out of an unwillingness to burden others or to have them neglect their own circumstance to address my concerns”.

The former industry minister shared the “very real and practical challenges” that he had to face and live with since August 2018 when he was first charged.

“Every attempt to find employment here in the US has been unsuccessful,” he said. Inniss added that “once potential employers were made aware of the charges, all doors were closed”. Speaking in a frank manner to the judge, Inniss stated that what was often portrayed on US news and criminal justice programmes was a lived reality as he now knew personally what it is like to be a “convict, immigrant, black and poor in the US”. He emphasised that he has “felt it all – all wrapped in one”.

While Inniss said he ultimately looked forward to returning to Barbados, he added that he was aware of the fact that he would be “persona non-grata” in many respects. He said that his “ability to do simple things like open a bank account, obtain services, find employment, and even have relationships are minimal.” He added it was “like having gone to the mountaintop and then be catapulted down into the valley with all the cuts, bruises, and agony gained on the tumultuous cascade”.

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