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Under-attack senator Curtis Richardson quits Senate over unpaid rent row

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Curtis Richardson, who has quit the Senate (File photograph)

A controversial senator and junior minister quit last night in the face of mounting criticism after it was revealed he owed an elderly woman $19,000 in unpaid rent.

Curtis Richardson will resign his seat in the Upper House and position as junior national security minister — a brief that covers law and order — at the end of the month.

David Burt, the Premier broke four days of silence and confirmed The Royal Gazette’s report that he was aware of Mr Richardson’s debt problems before he appointed him to the Upper House.

The resignation came after the Reverend Nicholas Tweed, the pastor at St Paul AME Church in Hamilton, denounced the senator and accused Mr Burt and the rest of the Progressive Labour Party parliamentarians of a failure to show moral leadership.

Mr Richardson stood down after his former landlady Margaret Harvey, who is in her seventies, broke down in tears as she gave evidence in the Supreme Court about the physical toll taken on her over a long legal battle to get the cash owed to her.

Ms Harvey said she had become sick and her hair had fallen out because of the stress of the legal battle to recover the cash.

Mr Burt said: “Let me first say that I truly feel for the Harveys as senior citizens, people who have worked hard and simply seek what they are owed – just as I feel for many landlords who have had similar experiences.

“The pandemic has impacted families across the island and the experiences of some of our seniors during these times are heart-wrenching and make our work in growing this economy even more important.”

Mr Burt added that Mr Richardson was the father of two young children and who “like many, has fallen on difficult times”.

The Premier admitted: “Upon Curtis's appointment, I was aware of the debt and gave instructions that it must be addressed.

“However, the fact remains that this ordeal has been trying for all involved, especially for the Harvey family and I have accepted Curtis’s decision to resign from the Senate and as a junior minister.”

The Premier appealed for “less condemnation” in the new year.

He said: “We must understand that many people in this country are hurting, often in silence, displaying little of what they are truly enduring.

“We must work together as a community, with more compassion and less condemnation, if we are to get through what will be a challenging year.”

Ms Harvey’s daughter, Margot Harvey, who is a doctor and who represented her mother in the Supreme Court, said: “It is appropriate that he will no longer be a public representative.”

The key questions not answered

Why did the Premier appoint Curtis Richardson to the Senate and junior ministerial posts – including health – when he had been warned about his debt situation?

Why did the Premier say nothing on this controversy for four days – despite repeated requests for comment by The Royal Gazette?

In an e-mail between the Harvey family and the Cabinet Secretary Marc Telemaque, seen by The Royal Gazette, and sent before Mr Richardson was made a senator, the senior civil servant said: “I’m sorry this is not resolved. I have made the Premier aware, and I expect he will address the matter directly with Mr Richardson in his capacity as party leader”. How, exactly, did the Premier address the situation with Mr Richardson?

Why, despite the Premier’s assertion he “instructed” that the debt should be dealt with, was so little money given to Ms Harvey by Mr Richardson?

Given that Margaret Harvey says she is now sick and losing her hair because of the stress caused by the legal action against Mr Richardson for the recovery of the debt, does the Premier feel any shame at appointing Mr Richardson to such high offices of state?

Mr Richardson said last night he had resigned because the controversy had become a distraction from the work of the Government — and promised to come to an arrangement with Ms Harvey.

He added: “I continue to apologise to those to whom I am in arrears for the strain that this debt has placed on their business and their personal finances.

“I will continue to be as transparent as possible and communicate as much as I can to ensure that these debts, accumulated due to my inability to work, will all be paid off in full. I will also continue to pay what I can with all that I am able to earn when I am able to make payments.”

Mr Tweed attacked “moral bankruptcy” in Parliament at the weekend.

The churchman, who Mr Burt had previously said was his pastor, compared Mr Richardson to Judas and accused him of “intimidating” a senior citizen.

He added Mr Burt and all the other Progressive Labour Party MPs were hiding behind the courts and had failed to show leadership.

Mr Tweed said: “The Bible also teaches us to who much is given much is required.

“So, when we see individuals who have been given much, appointed to the Senate, serving at the pleasure of those whom we have trusted to provide leadership, when we see them abusing their position by intimidating seniors and having them believe that they have to be silent in the face of abuse because of the political affiliation of the individual and the immunity they think that brings them.”

Mr Tweed also hit out at PLP MPs.

He said: “The thing that I find disturbing is when you have 30 people in the House of Assembly and every single one of them seek political cover behind a judicial veil when the issue is a moral issue.

The Reverend Nicholas Tweed (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

“The issue has nothing to do with what the court will and won’t do — it’s a moral issue.

“And when we cover it over it reflects a level of moral bankruptcy.

“How then can anybody claim to protect and respect the vulnerable and allow persons to occupy places at the pleasure — it’s not even as if they were elected anywhere.

“Now the political communication is, ‘well, we have got to wait and see what the court says’.

“How do we lead our people if our moral compass is broken? And that is troubling.

“The irony of it is that image if we sought to go back in time and imagine if that was an OBA senator?

“What I do care about, for it is my responsibility, is moral leadership.

“Because morality is not for sale.

“Even Judas gave back the 30 pieces of silver that he got for betraying Jesus.

“These double standards become nothing more than practised hypocrisy.

“Pray for this, family.”

Mr Tweed said some politicians believed “the only problem that we have is that it got out to the public — it’s not the moral wrongdoing”.

He added: “Enough is enough.”

Mr Richardson, who earns more than $30,000 a year for his Senate role, failed to make monthly payments of $325 a month ordered by Magistrates’ Court.

E-mails between the Harvey family and Marc Telemaque, the Cabinet Secretary, showed that Mr Burt was informed about the problem before he sent Mr Richardson to the Senate in October 2020.

Mr Richardson was replaced as junior health minister, but held on to the national security post, as well as being the PLP’s Senate spokesman on transport.

It was revealed in court that Mr Richardson had paid just $1,400 of the cash owed and that the Department of Financial Assistance had made monthly payments of $1,163 for him in September, October and November of 2020.

Mr Richardson was given a notice to quit the property owned by Ms Harvey on March 31, 2020, but did not vacate the premises until the next year.

Dr Harvey, said the family contacted the Premier’s office on two occasions, in May and September of 2020.

She also questioned why an arrest warrant reissued when Mr Richardson failed to appear in Magistrates’ Court as scheduled on December 3 last year was not enforced.

The senator will have his ability to pay assessed in Magistrates’ Court to determine how much he will be able to put towards his debt to Ms Harvey.

A Senate replacement for Mr Richardson is expected to be announced in the next few weeks.

The Government earlier failed to respond to several requests for comment.

To read Mr Richardson’s letter in full, see “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 slanderous or defamatory comments made on our website, this move is for our protection as well as that of our readers