Judge reduces thief’s reparation order from $32,000 to $6,000
A woman who swindled an elderly widower out of $32,000 only has to repay $6,000 of the stolen funds after pleading poverty herself.
Gaynette Holder, 50, was convicted two years ago of plundering former marine pilot George Welch's life savings. Mr Welch was 98 years old at the time and suffered from dementia.
Yesterday, Holder's lawyer told the Chief Justice she is in debt to the tune of $40,000, and can't afford to repay the money as she is earning low wages working in child care.
As a result, Chief Justice Richard Ground ruled she must now only repay $6,000 less than a fifth of what she stole.
Mr Welch passed away at the age of 101 just a month after Holder was convicted. Esther James-Liverpool, his cousin and executor of his estate, lives in the United States and was unaware of yesterday's appeal by Holder, of Park Lane, Pembroke.
Informed of the outcome by this newspaper, she said: “I'm very disappointed that she was allowed to reduce it to only $6,000.”
She suspects Holder stole more than $32,000 but has been unable to trace the rest.
During Holder's appeal hearing yesterday, Chief Justice Richard Ground said: “The overall allegation was that she'd gone through about $94,000 from his bank account.”
He described the 14 counts of theft Holder was convicted of, totalling $32,000, as “specimen counts”.
Mrs James-Liverpool said: “The $32,000 was a slap in the face, but at least it's what the court ruled. Now I'm very disappointed it's been reduced.”
Mr Welch, who was Bermuda's first black marine pilot, was originally from St Vincent and had no living relatives in Bermuda. Holder was hired by Mrs James-Liverpool through an agency.
The trial heard how Holder inveigled herself into the elderly man's life within weeks, getting him to sign a letter agreeing she would work directly for him instead of through the agency.
Holder went on to gain “total control” of his life, according to prosecutors, and abused her position of trust to plunder his bank accounts to pay off her debts.
She bought jewellery and furniture for herself and her family, as well as stealing the pensioner's belongings including watches and cufflinks.
Holder even moved her family into Mr Welch's home in St George's, relegating him to a downstairs apartment.
Holder was convicted by Acting Magistrate Graveney Bannister, who gave her the maximum possible one-year jail sentence.
He also ordered her to pay the $32,000 back to Mr Welch or face further jail time.
Now Mr Welch has died, the amount is owed to his estate but Holder has yet to make a single payment.
Her lawyer Kamal Worrell revealed yesterday that she was released from jail after eight months of her sentence.
He described the order for payment as “manifestly excessive” and “harsh” when it came on top of jail time.
He went on to say that Holder has “very limited means” as she is currently earning $1,300 per month working as a nursery aide at Nu-Hope nursery in Devonshire.
Her husband earns $2,400 per month and their household expenses total $2,300.
Holder also owed $40,000 to the Bermuda Credit Association as of July 2011 for unpaid bills including hospital bills. She is supporting two sons financially.
“It's very near impossible for the order to be complied with within any reasonable amount of time,” said Mr Worrell.
Prosecutor Susan Mulligan said Holder should be made to pay back the full amount nonetheless.
“This is not a single act; it's repeated theft from a man who's 100 years old over a significant period of time,” she said. “We know she took this money; it wasn't hers, and she was unjustly enriched because of that.
“It's not right she should get the benefit of $32,000 just because she went to jail.”
When the prosecutor observed that “there's nothing in the (court) record that tells us what happened to all the money Ms Holder took,” the Chief Justice replied that “she spent it!”
Making his ruling, he noted that the eight months Holder spent behind bars meant she was not earning any money.
He also stated that the Acting Magistrate should have inquired into her financial position before ordering her to repay $32,000.
Mr Justice Ground said now he has been made aware, via the appeal, that Holder has a “limited ability to make payments,” the “appropriate order” would be for $6,000.
That, he said, was a rough estimate of the value of a car bought for Holder by Mr Welch, which she must now sell and pay towards settling the court order by December 31.
If the money is not repaid, the law places the onus on representatives of Mr Welch's estate to apply to the court for an enforcement order.
Mrs James-Liverpool told
The Royal Gazette: “If she doesn't sell the car and pay the $6,000, I intend as the executor of the estate to go back to court and get her to pay the money or spend more time in jail.
“If I have to come to Bermuda to get her to do more time, I will do that.”