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‘A piercing blow to democratic operation of civil society’

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David Curley, the former Royal Bermuda Regiment commanding officer was sentenced earlier this week after pleading guilty to official corruption. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The former commanding officer of the Royal Bermuda Regiment jailed this week after pleading guilty to corruption “delivered a piercing blow to the democratic operation of civil society”, according to the sentencing judge.

In a written ruling, Puisne Judge Juan Wolffe said there was no way of sugar-coating David Curley’s crime, in which he “bartered away guns and a legal position for medals and awards, which he did not earn nor deserve”.

Curley was jailed for six months on Wednesday after he admitted that he asked the late Justin Williams to nominate him to join the Order of St John. In exchange, Curley agreed to give Mr Williams – a gun collector and lawyer – decommissioned firearms from the regiment’s arsenal and to appoint him as legal adviser to the regiment.

Curley was given an additional 12 months in jail, suspended for a year.

In a 26-page ruling, Mr Justice Wolffe said: “The nature of this case is extremely serious. While corruption-type offences do not capture the media headlines as frequently or as sensationally as violent or drug-related offences, the effect they can have on the community can be as devastating.

“By his corrupt behaviour the defendant delivered a piercing blow to the democratic operation of civil society.

“For medals and legal posts to be traded away as part of a ‘you scratch my back, I scratch your back’ relationship as was the one between the defendant and Mr Williams, not only tarnishes the medal and the post but it also brings into disrepute the entire process by which they are awarded or granted.

“There is no way of sugar-coating what the defendant did. The defendant bartered away guns and a legal position for medals and awards, which he did not earn nor deserve.

“The defendant and Mr Williams may have single-handedly denigrated the processes of awarding the medal and legal adviser position and may have simultaneously brought into question the worthiness of those who most likely would have deserved such accolades in the past.”

Blow to civil society: disgraced former regiment commander David Curley (File photograph)

At a pre-sentencing hearing last month, Curley claimed that he did not realise that he was doing anything illegal when he first approached Mr Williams.

But in his ruling, Mr Justice Wolffe pointed to a catalogue of e-mail exchanges between Curley and Mr Williams obtained by detectives that showed that the two men were aware that their quid pro quo arrangement was not legitimate.

In one e-mail to Curley, Mr Williams said that there were not sufficiently “compelling” reasons to nominate Curley for the Order of St John. Further e-mails revealed that Mr Williams embellished Curley’s nomination form with false credentials in order for him to be accepted into the Order.

According to Mr Justice Wolffe, police interviewed regiment staff who claimed that Curley “pressured them into expediting the decommissioning process and that the defendant was told that what he was doing was not a good idea”.

In another damning e-mail exchange, Curley said that he knew of the “delicate issue ref medal”.

Detective backs jail sentence

A retired police officer who investigated allegations of official corruption against David Curley has applauded his jail sentence.

Ian Trantum, a former detective inspector, was part of a two-man team seconded from the UK to assist the Bermuda Police Service with an inquiry into the activities of high-profile lawyer Justin Williams in 2019.

Mr Williams was at the centre of a police probe into allegations of firearms and corruption offences in addition to crimes involving vulnerable persons.

Mr Williams fled to the US and died in November 2021 before he could be extradited back to Bermuda to face charges.

But e-mails discovered on his computers revealed a paper trail that led investigators to Curley and a case of corruption at the highest level.

Mr Trantum, who was in Bermuda for five months interviewing witnesses, told The Royal Gazette: “I interviewed Mr Curley and it was apparent that he knew exactly what he was doing. For him to say it was all an innocent mistake is not true.

“He had a very selective memory. Initially he told us only that he only had conversations with Mr Williams. We had to remind him about all the e-mails that we had obtained. He conveniently couldn’t remember them.

“And I think the judge was right to say that this wasn’t just a one-off guns-for-gongs arrangement. They were looking at making further quid pro quo deals with each other.”

Curley’s lawyer, Mark Pettingill, had earlier argued that it would be “unfair and excessive” if Curley was to serve time in jail.

Prosecutors also said that they would not object to Curley receiving a suspended sentence.

Mr Trantum disagreed.

He said: “I welcome the sentence by the judge.

“This was a serious offence and Mr Curley knew what he was doing and that it was wrong. I think a jail sentence was justified.”

The e-mails also showed the pair were planning further guns-for-medals deals.

In one, Curley asked Mr Williams if there were any other awards available, adding that he was in contact with an arms dealer who could provide replica weapons, including an MP40 submachine gun and a Remington shotgun.

Mr Justice Wolffe said: “So acquiring the medal and the legal adviser post for the Ruger and the Uzi was not a ‘one-off’.

“It would appear that the successful acquisition of the medal set the stage or gave the defendant and Mr Williams license to engage in a corrupt practice of the accumulation of medals/awards for the defendant and guns for Mr Williams. This fledgeling corrupt joint enterprise went far beyond conversations as stated by the defendant.”

Defence attorney Mark Pettingill had earlier pointed out that Curley had contacted the Bermuda Police Service to find out how he could get the weapons decommissioned and licensed.

But in his sentencing statement, Mr Justice Wolffe said that that “does not negate the insidious nature of the corrupt conduct employed for Mr Williams to get the weapons”.

He added: “In essence, the defendant and Mr Williams fooled the BPS into thinking that there was nothing nefarious in Mr Williams being gifted the weapons.”

“As major, and definitely as CO, the defendant had the highest authority and power within the Bermuda Regiment of getting the weapons to Mr Williams, and the fact that the Bermuda Regiment had not previously gifted weapons to any member of the public is indicative of the substantial extent to which the defendant abused his power as CO.”

Mr Justice Wolffe said that there were mitigating factors that he had considered – including Curley’s previous “impeccable character”, his “valuable contributions to the community”, and his “remarkable” rise through the ranks of the regiment.

He acknowledged that Curley’s “precipitous fall from grace” made it unlikely that the former officer would be able to lead the professional and social life he had once enjoyed.

But he concluded: “To not order that the defendant should serve a period of incarceration for what he did would send a terrible message to the defendant and to others that they could escape incarceration for committing the offence of official corruption. This is not a message that I am prepared to send.”

• For the full ruling, see under related media.

• It is The Royal Gazette’s policy not to allow comments on stories regarding court cases. As we are legally liable for any libellous or defamatory comments made on our website, this move is for our protection as well as that of our readers