The Supreme Court has increased prison sentences for Patrick Konuwa, the former Account Officer at the John F. Kennedy Memorial Center (JFKMC) and five co-defendants, after Criminal Court ‘C’ at the Temple of Justice convicted them of squandering US$108,926.19 and L$16, 867,841.40, but yet imposed lenient prison sentences on the convicts.
However, at the time of announcing the sentences, the Court imposed a five–year sentence each on Konuwa and Fahn Borbor, while James Ricks was slapped with a two-year jail sentence.
The charges of economic sabotage, theft of property, money laundering, criminal conspiracy and criminal facilitation were dropped against Rebeah Arnous, Thomas G. Mezzeh and Behjamin Dargbeh, because they “cooperated” with the prosecution leading to the successful conviction of Konuwa, Borbor and Ricks.
Besides, the lenient prison sentences, the Court also waived the restitution of the US$108,926.19 and L$16, 867,841.40 that informed the conviction of the accused.
The sentences sparked public outrage, especially for the fact that the prosecutors had initially sought longer sentences and immediate restitution.
On appeal, however, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the Criminal Court ‘C’ reasoning, on July 10 of this year, and mandated the lower court to enforce its new decision.
The convicts are all on a criminal appearance bond that prevented them from being jailed pending the outcome of the Supreme Court’s decision into their appeal.
What remains unclear is whether the court will be able to locate the defendants to serve their respective sentences, and also restitute the money they stole from the JFKMC.
In her decision, Associate Justice Sie-A-Nyene G. Yuoh, highlighted that the case illustrates that the judge having adjudged the defendants guilty as charged, “erred when he sentenced the convicts to lesser offenses.”
The fact that the state established a prima facie case, meaning that their evidence produced before trial was sufficient to prove the case, Justice Yuoh declared in her opinion, “the court being the guardian of the law and the final arbiter authorized by law to exercise final review of both law and fact, and to review, modify, correct or enter into a judgment, the trial court should have entered. We confirmed the final judgment of the trial court, but with modification.”
In her opinion for the Court, Justice Yuoh concluded that the five-year sentence imposed on Konuwa be increased to nine years, while three more years should be added to Borbor’s five years.
“Konuwa is ordered to restitute US$13,323.91 and L$15,807,094.40, while Borbor is ordered to restitute US$55,049.28 and L$1,045,000.”
At the same time, Yuoh ordered that Ricks’ two years be increased to eight years.
“Ricks is mandated to restitute US$4,900 and L$15,774,000,” the Justice’s opinion declared.
For Arnous, his sentence was set to a year in jail and ordered to pay a fine of US$8,000 as “deterrent in keeping with Section 50.10 (3) (b) of the Penal Law.”
“Mezzeh and Dargbeh are sentenced to imprisonment of six years, each four and a half of which are suspended,” Yuoh said of the two.
She meanwhile ordered that Mezzeh be ordered to restitute US$8,525, while Dargbeh should likewise restitute US$19,218.
Although there are relatively few cases in which issues of mistaken sentences have been raised, the decision against Konuwa and his co-defendants demonstrates the Supreme Court’s emphasis on the need to correct these sentencing errors, given the substantial rights at stake.
The case grew out of complaints of financial impropriety filed by the JFK against Konuwa and his co-defendants who, were on November 2, 2016, declared guilty of the commission of the crimes of economic sabotage, theft of property, money laundering, criminal conspiracy and criminal facilitation.
Their conviction and subsequent sentences were imposed following trial having been accused i forging signatures of senior staffs before withdrawing from the JFK Hospital’s accounts at three commercial banking institutions.