Jury clears Curtis of all charges
By Elizabeth Roberts
Businessman Andre Curtis has been cleared by a jury over allegations that he stole almost $130,000 from Governments Faith-Based Tourism [FBT] fund.
He was also found not guilty of allegations that he created a false budget document to lie about how he spent the money.
Mr Curtis touched his hand to his heart and thanked the jury after the unanimous verdicts were delivered. He told the media he felt good, thanks, as he walked out of Supreme Court and his lawyer, Mark Pettingill, said he had been vindicated.
As part of the contract Mr Curtis was awarded in April 2007 to head FBT, he agreed to organise ten religious events and attract at least 2,200 visitors to Bermuda between April 2007 and April 2008.
Government refused to pay the remaining instalment of his $400,000 contract when he could not prove he met those obligations.
Various Department of Tourism officials testified during the case about the trouble they had getting information about FBT events from Mr Curtis, and verifying the visitor statistics he provided.
Mr Curtis, a 49-year-old father of two from Warwick, has been on trial at Supreme Court since September 26 accused of theft and false accounting.
The jury heard evidence from forensic accountant Todd Boyd that he appeared to have spent just $215,568 of the $345,250 he received for FBT on that purpose.
Prosecutors said Mr Curtis stole the rest of the money and spent it on items that had nothing to do with Faith-Based Tourism, including his own personal expenses and debts.
On one occasion he donated $25,000 to his church, after being "moved by God" during a Bible study session. Other sums went to repay debts he owed his wife, mother, and daughter.
His now ex-wife, Laquita Zuill, testified for the prosecution, saying the family was "robbing Peter to pay Paul" at the time of the transactions in question.
In her opening speech on September 28, prosecutor Kirsty-Ann Kiellor alleged that Mr Curtis stole from Governments cookie jar by misappropriating public cash.
Defence lawyer Mark Pettingill did not dispute the manner in which Mr Curtis spent the funds he was given by Government.
However, he argued that Government simply gave him the cookie jar, and the contract placed no obligation on Mr Curtis as to how to spend the funds.
Mr Pettingill insisted Mr Curtis is an innocent man who was made a scapegoat due to the public controversy over Faith-Based Tourism, which sparked media reports and questions in Parliament.
Mr Curtis was also charged with false accounting in relation to what the prosecution said were false accounts he submitted to Government in relation to FBT.
He filed a budget report stating that he had spent $536,845. However, Mr Boyd said he could not find evidence that Mr Curtis spent anywhere near that amount.
Ms Kiellor said the budget document was "full of falsities," and Mr Curtis knew he was being dishonest when he filed it.
However, Mr Pettingill argued that Mr Curtis compiled the document before two FBT events had even been held and it could not be relied upon as a final statement of accounts.
Mr Curtis was cleared, on Tuesday, of a third charge he faced, of stealing $271,000 from a client named Andrew Smith in respect of a building contract.
Mr Curtis maintained his innocence of all the charges throughout the trial. He has previously been convicted of running illegal investment schemes in Bermuda and the US.
He was fined $335,000 and ordered to pay back huge sums of cash in late 2010 for his role in a worldwide Ponzi scheme.
The Montana Commissioner of Securities and Finance ruled Mr Curtis profited after running the scheme in which 22 investors were conned out of a total of $4 million alongside convicted money launderer Daniel Two Feathers in 2008.
In addition to the fine, Mr Curtis was ordered to repay victims he duped by falsely promising massive returns.
One of them, American businessman John Sheaffer, took his own life after losing out.
Mr Sheaffers plight was also highlighted during a court hearing in Bermuda in December 2010, when Mr Curtis was jailed for 15 months for operating an unlicensed investment business, Harvest Investment Holdings.
Hed falsely claimed the company was registered with the Bermuda Monetary Authority, as it should have been in law. Mr Sheaffer invested in the firm after reading that claim on the company website.
Another victim, police constable Connie Saltus, a mother-of-three, told the court she was left out of pocket after investing with Mr Curtis.
He is still serving the jail sentence that was meted out for that matter, although his background was never revealed to the jury considering the Faith-Based Tourism allegations.