On Tuesday 22 January the trial involving the three interdicted Royal Virgin Islands Police Force (RVIPF) officers who are at the center of a major corruption case that involved the charges of Theft, Conspiracy to Rob and Conspiracy to pervert the Course of Justice began in the High Court before Justice Rajiv Persad and a nine-member jury.
The officers Pamphill Prevost, Simon Power and Shawn Henry are accused of taking money from criminals they apprehended between the years 2012 and 2014.
The Prosecution’s case is being led by Queen’s Counsel John Black who commenced the trial by explaining to the jury that his opening argument is meant to serve as an outline of the case.
In sketching out the case, the Queen’s Counsel told the jury that the case is about three police officers who were attached to the Proactive Unit of the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force. He alleged that the officers used their post to serve themselves and their own interest.
Conspiracy to Steal (Theft Charge)
In the matter of the Conspiracy to Steal charge the Prosecutor alleged that the three defendants conspired to steal money that was seized by the police and was in police custody. “What is alleged by the Crown is that they helped themselves to a sum of cash.”
In proving the conspiracy to steal charge the Prosecutor said that the Crown will invite the jury to look at the behavior of the accused over a period of time.
In further presenting a sketch of the case Queen’s Counsel Black stated that the money allegedly stolen was taken from persons who were deemed to be possessing those funds illegally.
The Prosecution is alleging that the three accused figured that the persons who owned the confiscated funds would be hesitant to report the money missing. In fact, Queen’s Counsel declared: “The temptation to enrich themselves proved too great for these officers.”
He said that the men were part of the Proactive Unit of the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force that dealt with the seizing of illegal drugs and cash. It was explained that there was a cash policy in the RVIPF which precludes the counting of confiscated cash at the scene of seizure.
It was mentioned that the policy called for the cash to be placed in an evidence bag and presented to the financial unit staff who then counted the money in front of the accused and placed the cash in a safe.
The Crown alleged that there were five instances where it can be concluded that the accused conspired. One of the noted instances was on 24 January 2012 in the matter involving Mr. King. The court heard that the officers acting on intelligence went to Sophers Hole and during that operation they observed a boat being operated by a man identified as King move into the mangroves
Officers reportedly approached King and it was stated that defendant Prevost went to the boat and observed a black canvas bag and brought the bag to where the officers were. The bag was opened in front of the officers and King. It was stated that the bag contained a quantity of bank notes.
The court heard that scene of crime officer Washington was at the scene and took photo of the packages of cash which had markings of the amount.
King was later taken to the station and the cash was given an exhibition number. It was stated that later that day King was escorted to the room with Officer Washington, and staff from the financial unit as well as other officers. Officer Washington took photos of the bag again; and it was stated that the cash was counted and the amount was said to be $136,000.
The prosecution alleged that between the time the bag was seized and the time it was counted at the police station some of the money was taken. The Crown alleged that the bag was in the custody of Prevost and Henry. “So the Crown says there are inferences to be drawn,” Queen’s Counsel Black said.
Another incident occurred on 20 December, 2012 during a joint operation between the RVIPF and Her Majesty’s Customs. It was stated that the matter involved the officers going to a suite where they found a number of Spanish speaking persons. It was mentioned that during the interception one of the Spanish speaking persons escaped and some of the officers gave chase. While that chase was taking place Prevost and other officers searched the room the escapee ran from.
One of the officers observed a pillow case which seemed to contain cash, but the court heard that Prevost took it in his possession. One officer identified as Officer Da Silva is said to have reported that “the pillowcase was so full it stood up like a man.” He said that the pillowcase was bulging and couldn’t be folded at the top.
The Crown noted that a member of Customs who was part of the operations also reported seeing the pillowcase. It was also mentioned by another police officer that accused Power was seen walking with the pillowcase. Therefore, the Prosecution alleged that both Power and Prevost had the pillow case and cash in their possession.
In fact, it was mentioned that it was both Power and Prevost that handed the cash to the Deputy Police Commissioner for it to be placed in a safe. It was mentioned that the Deputy Commissioner does not recall seeing a pillow case.
Officer Da Silva who had first noticed the pillowcase at the scene went to a briefing where the money was laid out and he noted that the volume was not the same as it previously was. The money was then counted and totaled “$133,000.” It was then photographed.
The court heard that in 2014 an investigation began into the Proactive Unit led by a Scottish Police Officer and other officers from the United Kingdom and the BVI. The investigating team is said to have looked at the cash that was seized and took four different photographs to reconstruct what happened with the pillowcase. It was mentioned that when the pillow case was filled the cash totaled approximately $620,000.
“If those witnesses were right then a large sum of money was taken from the pillowcase…The amount of cash in the pillow case was far greater than the $133,000…,” the Crown said. Further the Prosecution alleged that the two officers who had the cash in their custody took large quantities.
The other incident took place on 22 June, 2013 and involved a Mr. Maduro who returned to the BVI in a fast boat with $48,000 in his possession which he alleged was proceeds from business he went to St Thomas to conduct and further he mentioned that he intended to declare the cash.
The court heard that Prevost was in charge of the operation which included Power and Henry. It was said that at a private dock Maduro was intercepted as he was leaving in a vehicle. The cash was said to be discovered in a blue bag contained in a phone box. The box was shown to Maduro and then placed in an evidence bag. Maduro was taken to the police station.
On 23 June, 2013 Officer Dale took possession of the evidence bag and Maduro witnessed the counting of the cash which totaled $29,000. It was explained that Maduro knew that a substantial amount of the money was missing but chose not to mention. The Crown alleged that the three accused police officers stole approximately $20,000.
It was explained that Officer Isle went on leave in Dominica via a charter flight that was organized by Prevost. The flight is said to have included other officers. Following the flight the court heard that Isles was given a ride home in a car that was driven by Prevost. It was stated that during that car ride Prevost tried to recruit Isles to join the enterprise. It was said that Prevost gave details to Isles.
The details are said to allegedly include mention of the King and Maduro incidences, and he concluded by asking Isles – “Are you in?”
However, it was stated that Isles wanted no part in the enterprise but felt he was placed in an uncomfortable situation so he said “Yes I’m in.”
The Crown alleged that Prevost approached Isles a second time and asked him to join. The Prosecutor said that it was a conundrum for Isles who did not know what to do. It was said that Isles upon returning to Tortola decided to tell a colleague who advised him to tell a senior officer.
As a result of telling a senior officer it was decided that Isles would become a Covert Human Intelligence Source (CHIS) where he would be given a number and told how to behave by the RVIPF. It was said that Isles felt relieved that he would be protected by the RVIPF.
It was said that however, Isles was never provided a CHIS contract and as time passed by nothing had been done.
The other incident is said to have occurred on 10 April, 2014 when the Proactive Unit went to Phipps residence. It was said that Officer Da Silva, Isles, Power, Prevost, and Henry were all at the premise where a number of Spanish speaking persons were observed.
According to the Prosecution the search on the premise was conducted by Power and Prevost who were both observed wearing knapsacks on their backs which no other officers had. Officer Da Silva is said to recall someone shouting that something was thrown over the wall. Officer Da Silva who was in the room with the Spanish speaking persons observed a pouch which contained an unspecified amount of money. It was said that at some point Power had the said pouch.
“Prosecution alleges that Prevost, Henry and Power were in possession of money taken that night. The money Da Silva had seen was not accounted for anywhere,” Queen’s Counsel Black told the court.
Later that evening it was said that Isles and Prevost were outside the premise keeping watch when Isles walked around the premise and found a back pack which contained money and the court heard he kept the money.
The next morning Phipps was taken back to the property and it was stated that during that time cash was found over a wall at the premise. It was said that as a result three bundles of cash which were secured by rubber bands were photographed by a Mr. Simmonds who placed the money in an exhibition bag and handed it to Prevost.
Back at the station it was said that following the interview with Phipps, in a room in the presence if Isles and Power, Prevost broke the seal from the evidence bags that were initialed by Simmonds and handed bundles of cash to each of the officers. Each officer is said to have received $2000. As a result, the bags which were photograph and initialed had broken seals, which concerned Prevost. “Prevost in the presence of Power and Isle tampered with the evidence bag,” Queen’s Counsel Black told the court.
“The money not counted, the seal broken, the bag would need to be replaced,” the Prosecutor said as he noted that Prevost called Isles and instructed him to replace the bags as he was concerned. It was explained that the bags were switched with standard bags and the standard bags containing the cash were taken to be counted.
It was alleged that on the new bags the initial RD was placed representing the name of an officer that was not involved in the matter.
The Prosecution said that it was later discovered that there was a difference between the bags that were previously photographed and that which was handed over. The Crown alleges that Prevost forged the RD signature on the exhibit bag thus suggesting that it was that officer who found and seized the cash.
The other incident took place on 23 July 2014 during an intelligence operation at Sophers Hole involving a Mr. Nibbs. It was stated that Prevost, Power and Isles were involved. The court heard that Nibbs was intercepted while leaving on his scooter. It was said that he had a backpack in his possession.
The backpack was opened by Isles in front of Nibbs who told them it contained $42,000. The court heard that in an unusual act Power and Henry drove off with Nibbs leaving Prevost and Isles with the money. In fact, the Crown said that this was a breach of common practice.
The Prosecutor said that the result was a conflict of evidence between the details provided by Nibbs and that provided by Prevost and Isles. The key difference of the accounts is that Prevost made no mention of the money being placed in a jeep and the defendant being driven away. However, it was said that the telephone record showed a call between Power and Prevost which was mentioned in Nibbs’ statement. Nibbs claimed that money was stolen from his backpack. The court heard that when the money was officially counted it amounted to $32,980.
It was said that after Nibbs’ arrest Prevost visited him at the station and spoke with him. The Crown said that Prevost tried to influence Nibbs to change his story that money was missing.