Curtis used Govt funds for own use, court told
Businessman Andre Curtis siphoned funds from Government’s Faith-Based Tourism initiative and from a building contract into his own pockets, a prosecutor alleged.
Mr Curtis, 49, is further accused of fabricating a document explaining how he spent funds from his $400,000 Faith-Based Tourism deal. The allegations came from prosecutor Kirsty-Ann Kiellor as she opened his trial at Supreme Court yesterday. Mr Curtis is alleged to have stolen $130,681.19 from Government over the period April 2007 to April 2008 in relation to Faith-Based Tourism (FBT).
Ms Kiellor explained that the Department of Tourism outsourced FBT, which had been a Government-run initiative, to Mr Curtis’s company, Harvest Investment Holdings Ltd.
A contract was signed in April 2007, agreeing that FBT was to attract tourists to Bermuda by sponsoring religious events and conferences. The project was supposed to boost the economy by bringing tourist dollars to the Island.
According to the terms of the contract, Mr Curtis was to provide ten FBT events and generate 2,200 visitors in the first year. He was also to attract sponsorship money for the events.
Ms Kiellor said Mr Curtis was also to provide financial records and reach certain goals in order to be paid each instalment.
“What we, the Crown, are alleging is that during the course of these 12 months, Mr Curtis was diverting funds paid by the Government into Harvest, and he was diverting the money on a regular basis,” she told the jury.
“These funds were not only diverted, but they were used for things other than running Faith-Based Tourism or putting on Faith-Based Tourism events. I will suggest they were used for personal transactions for his own personal benefit.”
Ms Kiellor said that at the end of the 12-month contract, the Department required Mr Curtis to submit records of his spending in order to get the last instalment of the $400,000.
It’s at this point, according to the Crown, that he fabricated accounting records, telling Government he’d spent $500,000 on Faith-Based Tourism.
Mr Curtis claimed that that sum consisted of the $345,000 paid to him by Government so far, plus $165,000 invested by his company, Harvest Investment Holdings.
Ms Kiellor told the jury they will hear evidence about various FBT events from Department of Tourism staff and staff Mr Curtis employed.
As far as they were concerned, the only money they had for those events was the money from the Department.
“You’re going to hear that there was no $165,000 to add to this pot that was spent, and the figures he gave were fictitious and they were wholly wrong,” alleged the prosecutor.
Ms Kiellor also told the jury that between December 2006 and February 2007, Mr Curtis stole $141,826.48 from Andrew Smith, who hired his company Vision Construction to renovate his apartment in Paradise Lane, Flatts.
She said Mr Smith had known Mr Curtis for “some years” and signed a $271,000 deal with him, paying the money in advance of the work.
Ms Kiellor alleged that corners were cut on the project, which was not completed on time. Second-hand fixtures and fittings were used, and a subcontractor named Stephen Woodley was not paid.
Accusing Mr Curtis of stealing “a large chunk” of the money, she told the jury that Vision Construction only had $61.30 in its account prior to landing the contract with Mr Smith.
Mr Curtis moved $157,000 of the sum paid by Mr Smith into the company account of his then-wife, Laquita Zuill, who ran a small business administration firm called Opeilo.
Mr Kiellor said Ms Zuill, who is now Mr Curtis’s ex-wife, will give evidence for the prosecution that her business had no involvement in the construction project, but she was given instructions on how to use the $157,000.
“We are accusing Mr Curtis [that] instead of using the $271,000 Mr Smith gave him to renovate the apartment, Mr Curtis took large sums of money and used them for other purposes including paying off debts; personal transactions that had nothing to do with Mr Smith or his apartment,” alleged Ms Kiellor.
“We’re saying he would steal the money when he needed it and wanted it.”
Mr Curtis, from Warwick, denies stealing from Government and Mr Smith and false accounting, and the case continues.