Court upholds Sanja Elliott’s prison sentence in Manchester Parish Council fraud case
Tanesha Mundle/Staff Reporter
SANJA ELLIOTT, the former deputy superintendent in charge of roads and works, who masterminded a close to $49-million scheme at the Manchester Parish Council, is to serve his five-year prison sentence after the Court of Appeal found no reason to disturb his conviction.
The married father of two, now believed to be about 38, had sought to challenge his conviction on grounds including that the verdict was unreasonable and against the weight of the evidence and that the judge had erred in rejecting the no-case submission.
The former building officer was also contending that the Crown had not proven the money-laundering charge.
Attorney Norman Godfrey had maintained that conviction against his client was unsafe based on the compelling disparities between statements given by witnesses and their testimony on the stand.
However, the Court of Appeal judges, in a recently published judgment, concluded that “the learned judge of the parish court did not err in arriving at the verdicts in this case.
“The documentary evidence, in combination with the evidence of the witnesses, painted a compelling case against Mr Elliott. The various counts of the indictment were proved to the requisite standard,” they noted, explaining why the appeal against the conviction was dismissed.
Following the closely watched case, which made national headlines in June 2016, Elliot was convicted of several fraud-related charges and sentenced to a total of five years at the June 2020 sentencing hearing in the Manchester Parish Court.
The charges comprise conspiracy to defraud, obtaining money by false pretence, engaging in a transaction that involves criminal property, possession of criminal property, and an act of corruption.
In an eight-page, 32-count indictment outlining the charges against the seven convicts, prosecutors revealed that, between January 1, 2013 and July 31, 2016, Elliott, along with two other employees of the Council now called the Manchester Municipal Corporation, defrauded the council with the aid of his wife and his acquaintances.
FRIENDS AND ACQUAINTANCES
Elliott, the Crown said, inveigled some of his friends and acquaintances to participate in a scheme whereby invoices were sent to the council in their names, falsely claiming that they were contractors who had carried out work for the council.
Elliott and his co-workers facilitated invoices and, payment vouchers and cheques which were encashed and the proceeds collected by Elliott.
The scheme, which involved $48.7 million was uncovered in 2016 by officers from the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency and Financial Investigations Division.
Elliott, the prosecution claimed, had a net worth of more than $255 million, and owned six motor vehicles – three Honda motorcars, a Honda Ridgeline SUV, a Suzuki Jimny SUV, and several pieces of real estate when he was arrested.
Godfrey, during the appeal hearing, had argued that the court should have disregarded the evidence of three of the witnesses provided to support the three counts of obtaining money by false pretence against his client.
He argued that some of the witnesses were “wholly inconsistent” with their previous statements. Godfrey challenged the basis on which his client was charged in respect to one of the counts when the supporting evidence was first disclosed during the witness’ testimony.
Among Godrey’s arguments was also that two of the counts were bad for duplicity – when more than one offence is alleged in the same charge. He argued that the cheques exhibited did not align with the sums given by the Crown and that the prosecution failed to produce the documentary evidence to substantiate this count.
Godfrey highlighted that, although Elliott was charged on one count with obtaining a specific sum of $300,000, no cheque was presented in that amount. Instead, he said the evidence consisted of several sums obtained over a period which should not have been done.
Crown Counsel Channa Ormsby, while conceding that the witnesses’ statement differed from their testimony argued that Elliott knew why he was being charged. She said further
that the trial judge had the duty to deal with the issues of credibility in the face of inconsistencies, discrepancies and omission and had properly exercised her discretion.
Additionally, she said Godfrey knew the information that supported each count and rejected the argument that two of the counts were bad for duplicity, noting that one was based on a single transaction while the other was based on continuous taking and that it would have been oppressive for Elliott had the Crown itemised each individual count. However, to remedy the matter, an amendment could be made.
Meanwhile, the judges, in their discussion, while stressing that discrepancies and inconsistencies are common i n trials, said contradiction by a witness does not amount to an automatic failing of the case. According to them, it is the duty of the judge to determine whether the witness is credible.
Further, the appeal court judges said despite the contradictions and discrepancies, the trial judge found that the witnesses were credible and found no basis to disturb her discretion.
Jamelia Simpson also appeared for the Crown.