How The Coye's Became Convicts
Convictions for white collar crime are very rare in Belize - and that's why tonight, it's still quite remarkable to consider to Michael Coye and his daughter Melonie are spending their second night in jail.
We expect that she is in the female section - and for Michael Coye, possibly, due to his age and family background he may end up in the Tango Five section - which is reserved for small timers, family court offenders and low risk prisoners.
How did they end up there? We revisit that in a recap of yesterday's unprecedented events at the Supreme Court:
Daniel Ortiz Reporting
36 year-old Melonie and 65 year-old Michael Coye are in in prison tonight, a culmination of over 3 years of work from the Financial Intelligence Unit.
It is the first money laundering conviction in Belize, and for the members of the Coye family, now considered white collar criminals, and facing prison time, it their first criminal conviction
The Coye family and friends' were visibly shaken as the pair were escorted by police to be taken to the prison transport for the long ride to the central prison in Hattieville.
And while it is a stunning outcome, this is really about a suitcase stuffed with over a million dollars in cash that was found at the Coye's home.
Where did all that cash come from?
Marilyn Williams - Director, FIU
"Sometimes, you may know that someone committed a crime. But, that is called intelligence; it doesn't become evidence until you can get someone who can actually come and testify as to those facts.
Arthur Saldivar - Attorney for the Defendants
"The thing about it is this. This was a shoddy investigation if any investigation was done at all. If this is what we consider the requirements for justice to be served then justice was buried today and was buried on Friday because at the end of the day you had clear evidence of monies coming out of banks, not one bank - not two banks and not just a couple years ago, but as far back as the year 2000. No investigator interviewed anyone from the banks to determine whether or not those monies were deposited by Michael Coye or anytime. That was never brought before this court. So, to say now, that because Michael Coye had money that derived its origin from the bank in his home, that this is evidence of money laundering is preposterous."
"Sir, but then the explanation that your client gave as to how he amassed that money at his house, the Chief Justice, in his capacity, disagreed. He called it improbable."
"I am glad that you mentioned that. Even if it were, my client, as a Belizean, has a right to remain silent. He need not say anything. It is not for him to prove his innocence; it is for the prosecution to prove his guilt. So, if the prosecution did no sufficiently investigate to actually fix guilt on Michael Coye or anyone else, who is anybody to say that what he said is not so?"
The 2 employees are able to spend time with their families now, somewhat free from the burdens of the case. However, these 2 men, who have been out of work for more than 3 years, must pay stiff fines.
But they are more concerned about the Coyes family members for whom they want full exoneration.
Athlee Matute - Convicted of Money Laundering
"Even though the time wasn't such a long time, I really would have hoped for the better and wished that all four of us could have gotten the same sentence, I mean, because we still all maintain our innocence in this entire ordeal. And I really do hope, though I cannot really say, because I've been ease, but for my other 2 close friends, that justice will prevail for them in the near future."
But it must not be forgotten that scope of what the Coyes are convicted of: mass fraud in which the court agreed that they fraudulently used a database of Belizean citizens' driver's licenses - without their knowledge - and used those identifications to funnel money into Belize through MoneyGram.
Adele Ramos was one of those identity theft victims.
File: June 5, 2009
Adele Ramos - Identity Was Stolen
It had my name, my addressand my driver's license number. The transfer was from a Felix Anongus in California, who I don't know.
When I initially learnt of the story, the first two things that came to my mind was one, how is it that people's information, private confidential information, could be used in transactions like these. It is not even being done here in Belize, the sender was from outside apparently, based on the transaction report.
I was stunned. You mean somebody can just walk into an office with a flash drive and steal the information of hundreds of Belizeans from all walks of life? It is incredible Jules, I can't believe it, I just can't believe it."
But Saldivar says that even the evidence that the FIU was able to furnish the court with, is questionable due to inconsistences of testimonies and witness statements from the prosecution.
"You have the situation of a CD that was central to this case. And now that it's over, I will speak on it because the CD is what supposedly fixed the prosecution and the jury with the knowledge that Money Exchange International Limited would have had access to a database of names from the drivers' license database of the City Council. Well, in the affidavit and statement of the FIU Director, herself, at paragraph 10 of that affidavit - and I'll make it known to you. I'll publish it for you. She said that she got this thing from a Sergeant Kenrick Lewis. Sergeant Kenrick Lewis came to court and testified in court that he didn't receive any CD. So, how could he give any CD to Ms. Williams? How could he do that? This case was fixed on the basis of untruths told by the witnesses under oath."
It is important to note that in his unsworn statement in explanation of the money at his home, Michael Coye told the court that he sold 3 properties worth $400,000, $250,000, and $370,000. He also said that he inherited $380,000 from his mother when she died.
According to Coye, in the 1980's there was a rumor going about that the banks in Belize were experiencing some irregularities, and he got advice from a friend to withdraw all his money to avoid any losses.
He said that he contacted an attorney, who told him that it is imprudent to take out all his money, but it is not illegal.
Coye said that he made the decision and withdrew all his money from every bank he was doing business with. The rest of money, according to him, came from his savings while he worked on his different businesses after retirement.
As noted in the interview, Chief Justice Benjamin, in coming to his decision on the sentence, remarked that the story was improbable.