Andre Curtis was paid $25,000 before a contract was signed senior Civil Servant tells court
Accused thief Andre Curtis was paid $25,000 in advance for Faith-Based Tourism before he even signed a contract with Government, a former tourism chief admitted.Cherie-Lynn Whitter, former director of the Department of Tourism, told Supreme Court the sum might have been paid after Cabinet approved the deal, but before that information formally went back to the Department.She recalled a directive coming from the Permanent Secretary [PS] to “release some funding” to Mr Curtis around a week before the contract was signed.Ms Whitter gave the evidence in response to questions from defence lawyer Mark Pettingill, who suggested an e-mail had been sent by the PS saying: “Mock-up a contract of sorts to make this happen yesterday.”Ms Whitter replied to Mr Pettingill’s suggestion by saying: “I do recall an incident involving a payment. I do not recall the email specifically.”When Mr Pettingill showed her the email in question, she confirmed it had been sent to her, and named the PS in question as Marc Telemaque.She agreed the $25,000 was not mentioned “specifically” in the contract Mr Curtis later signed.Her testimony came as the prosecution sought to prove allegations that Mr Curtis illegally siphoned funds he was paid for Faith-Based Tourism [FBT] into his own pockets.Ms Whitter, who is now PS at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry told the trial she’s known Mr Curtis since they attended Prospect Primary School together.She explained he was contracted to boost the number of faith-based tourists per year by ten percent, to 2,200. He was to hold ten FBT events in the first year, plus develop sponsors.According to Ms Whitter, at least half of his contracted $400,000 sum would be spent on the cost of rent and other miscellaneous expenses and the rest to sponsor various events.She agreed there was no breakdown in his contract of how each half of the sum should be used, but said that was discussed in the early stages.Prosecutor Kirsty-Ann Kiellor suggested during her opening speech that Mr Curtis put his hand in Government’s “cookie jar” and stole the FBT cash for his own personal use.Mr Pettingill suggested: “The Government just gave the cookie jar to Mr Curtis, didn’t they?”Ms Whitter denied this, saying the terms of the FBT contract were clear. The jury also heard from Jasmin Smith, the Acting Director of Tourism, who complained about Mr Curtis’s “unprofessional” behaviour, and refusal to provide documents showing how he’d spent the FBT cash.“Mr Curtis had a way of managing himself where he would bring information to the department on the spur of the moment,” said Ms Smith, who recalled how he would ask creative department staff to drop whatever they were doing and make him flyers for his events.Ms Smith got him to sign an addendum to his contract in July 2007 saying he would do things in “a more orderly fashion”.She also told the jury that during the first meeting she had with Mr Curtis, she took exception to his behaviour.She explained: “I’m very professional and expect people to behave professionally around me. I was most surprised that during the midst of our conversation, Mr Curtis started carrying on a conversation on his cell phone.”She had to remind Mr Curtis that he should put FBT-related information in writing, and submit documentation verifying how he was spending Government funds. However, she said she got no paperwork beyond a list of the ten events. Ms Smith told the jury she did not attend the events herself but sent staff members to report back to her.Ms Smith also recalled what happened when she asked Mr Curtis how he was monitoring the number of visitors attending the events. “He told me he was doing a show of hands, and I didn’t find that satisfactory,” said Ms Smith.She had to warn Mr Curtis when she heard he was using his Government-funded office in King Street to carry out non-Government business. This resulted in another addendum to his contract. At one point, according to Ms Smith, Mr Curtis called the Minister of Tourism and accused her of being unreasonable.“The Minister called me and put us on the phone; he had on a conference call. The Minister asked me to explain to him what I was looking for from Mr Curtis and I explained, and the Minister explained to Mr Curtis that what I was requesting was normal business practice and not unreasonable,” she said.“Mr Curtis got a little angry on the phone, said he wasn’t filing the information and hung up. But about 20 minutes later Mr Curtis turned up at the Department of Tourism with the information.”Mr Curtis denies charges of theft and false accounting, and the case continues.