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Save-A-Lot staffers on trial for mistreatment and theft

PHILIPSBURG--Three staff members of Save-A-Lot Home Center on Bush Road, stood trial Thursday, on allegations of mistreatment, deprivation of liberty and theft with violence. These crimes were allegedly committed against two company workers on March 11, 2013.

Suspects M.M.M. (43), S.A. (30) and M.R.A. (28) had uncovered that two employees had been misappropriating merchandise and money from the store. In confronting these workers with their wrongdoings, the three defendants had exerted violence, the Prosecutor's Office stated.

Suspects M.M.M. and S.A. did not deny violence was used during a fight with victim K. from Guyana, but questioned the severity of the injuries. The victim, who had been working at the store for four years, had claimed he was punched in his face which caused a bruised cheek. He also told the police he was lashed on his back with an electrical cord during the fight outside the company's warehouse, which is located next to the store.

Defendant M.R.A. claimed he was not present as he had been at the gym and in the mosque during the time of the fight. After the fight, the victim was taken back into the store, where he was held against his will for three hours, according to the prosecutor.

"Why did you do this?" the Judge wanted to know. "You could have fired him," the Judge said.

The three suspects were also accused of theft with violence of then Save-A-Lot employee S. from Venezuela. In confessing the theft, K. had pointed at S. as being his associate. A group of eight Save-A-Lot staffers, including the store owner, visited his home at 10:00pm that night. S. was also threatened and beaten up and his cell phone was taken away from him, he had said.

According to Save-A-Lot, K. stole more than US $20,000 in furniture from the company's warehouse in Cole Bay with the use of a false key.

S., the suspects claimed, had borrowed $5,000 from the store owners, claiming that his father was sick. He, however, had fooled them and was planning to return to his homeland Venezuela without paying them back.

Also in this incident, the judge questioned the defendants' modus operandi. "Shouldn't you have used a bailiff to get your money back?" he asked.

Prosecutor Tineke Kamps said she lent more credibility to the victims' statements in this case than to those of the three defendants. She said the victims were "completely" beaten up and one of them had been locked up in the store between 6:45pm and 9:45pm because he was suspected of theft. "This is taking the law into your own hands. They should have reported the theft to the police," said the prosecutor.

Kamps said all three defendants, who had been held in pre-trial detention from March 13, 2013, until April 8, 2013, were equally guilty of mistreatment. The prosecutor took into account that all defendants were first offenders and also considered the fact that the crime was committed two years ago.

Holding all three equally responsible, the prosecutor requested prison sentences of 276 days, 250 or which are to be suspended, on three years' probation, and 80 hours of community service.

Attorney-at-law Brenda Brooks pleaded for her clients' full acquittal. She claimed K. had started the fight and said suspect S.A. should be acquitted of mistreatment because he had to defend himself against the attack and had not used excessive violence.

According to the lawyer, all charges should be dropped for lack of evidence and the absence of reliable witness' statements. The court will give its decision April 9.

PM Gumbs signs sewage connections agreement

PHILIPSBURG--Interim Minister of Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure VROMI, Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs signed an agreement with Eric van Putten of Designer's Choice on Thursday, for sewage connections to the homes and properties directly along the main road in Middle Region.

The agreement is valued at NAf. 450,000, and is financed by the government. After signing Prime Minister Gumbs immediately instructed VROMI section New Works to look at connecting the homes in the higher elevations next.

From 2009 through 2011, the upgrading of Middle Region was carried out with funding from the ninth European Development Fund (EDF) programme.

The main road of Middle Region was upgraded with the implementation of a sewage network system and sewage laterals with the adjoining house connection inspection pits to later connect the adjacent properties and homes.

Government also invested NAf. 2.5 million for the construction of boundary walls on the east and west sides of the Middle Region main road.

The government made the commitment as part of the project agreement with the European Union (EU), to ensure that the homes in Middle Region would be connected onto the main sewage line at its expense to eliminate running sewage water onto the streets.

To this effect, terms of reference (TOR) were prepared and placed on public tender for the project: Design and Build Remedial House Connections St. Maarten East. The TOR includes connections for the districts of Philipsburg (Phase I) and Middle Region (Phase II).

The tender proceedings were held December 4, 2014, with three companies participating in the public tender.

The signing on Thursday had to do specifically with Phase II of the project. It is urgent for the government to complete the connections of the properties to the sewage line to avoid jeopardising the agreements with the EU about other similar funding arrangements projected for the areas of Dutch Quarter (10th EDF) and Cole Bay (11th EDF).

Designer's Choice is expected to complete the work in three calendar months; mobilisation should begin next week.

Neighbours alarmed over health of elderly man, state of his house

page1a259MARIGOT--Neighbours and concerned citizens have raised the alarm over what they believe is a failure of social services to address adequately the situation of a family living in deplorable conditions at 43 Rue de Pic Paradis.

The primary concern is over the health of the senior member of the household, Placido Vrolijk (83), born in Aruba on September 25, 1932. He is currently bedridden and in poor health, and the family is trying to have him moved into a senior citizens home on either the French or Dutch side of the island.

"I've seen how his health is deteriorating on a daily basis," worries neighbour Alan Conner. "We've knocked on many doors already, but to no avail. The problem is he does not have health insurance or social security.

"Social workers said to try the Dutch side because he has Dutch nationality, but it seems they cannot admit him to the home over there because he doesn't have health insurance. He needs food and medical attention. We were promised a social worker would come from the Collectivité to assess the situation but nobody came."

Conner said Vrolijk's pension from the Dutch side almost had been cut off because the department did not know whether he was dead or alive. Fortunately, that was averted just in time after Conner obtained proof from a doctor that he was alive, but the family had been unaware the pension payment was about to be cut.

Concerned citizen Victor Paines, who has known Vrolijk for many years, said it did not matter to him which government or health authority, French- or Dutch-side, ultimately took responsibility, but something needed to be done quickly.

"It may be that social services will need to temporarily work together to get this situation resolved to get him into a home on the French side or Dutch side," Paines suggested. "Not only is this gentleman suffering from poor health, but the house itself is in an appalling state of deterioration."

That was very evident from a look at the front rooms of the house. Plaster is peeling off the ceilings and walls are down to the rebar, a rusty cooker and fridge sit on a tile floor in the kitchen, dilapidated furniture and naked light bulbs adorn the rooms, walls are unpainted, some with graffiti and even vines growing through the sliding doors on the porch.

The family consists of three adults: Vrolijk, his wife who has French nationality and an adopted daughter from Colombia, plus her six children ages five to 16 who go to school on the French side. Apparently only one child of the six has a passport because the father was French. Only a birth certificate is required to attend school on the French side.

"We have also learnt recently that one of the children is being subjected to sexual abuse from outside sources," Paines disclosed. "We want social services to take responsibility and get this matter sorted out. This is an insult and something that shouldn't exist in this day and age in St. Martin. It's absurd. It's good the children go to school, but go to the next step. What if the children need to travel with the school? We are providing education, but it's crazy that these children can't have citizenship and rights like everyone else."

Paines said he believed some work already had been done by social services on behalf of the wife and adopted daughter situations.

Special needs educator Diane Parrotte, who works at the school in Grand Case attended by one of the children, has been helping the family in cooperation with the Collectivité's social services since 2010. However, she says the family largely have themselves to blame for the situation they are in today despite the work she has put in, because they no longer want her help.

"I suspected from the child Mario that all was not well at home and I told him I wanted to meet his mother," said Parrotte. "When I saw the condition of the house from that day on I started working with the wife and adopted daughter Isabelle to get things sorted out for them. But to me there is carelessness on their part, because I told them what documents they needed to get. It was because of me that the wife got a 'carte vitale' and I helped her get a pension.

"The names of the daughter's children were all messed up, but I got them back in order with social services. I worked with the daughter to get her social coverage and a 'titre de sejour' [three-month residence permit – Ed.]. That involved contacting the embassy on the Dutch side to get her birth certificate from Colombia and then translating it.

"As for the house, no human being could live like that and I took the daughter and six children to live with me for a time because my son was away. But once she got the 'titre de sejour' she felt she didn't need me anymore. I was still working to get her 'carte de sejour' so she could get nationality because she had been here since she was a child. Maybe she felt she could handle it on her own without me. But I know she can't because she's messed everything up. She needs guidance."

According to Parrotte, neighbours were willing to fix up the house but the wife did not want it fixed up because of fears "someone else could benefit from it."

"How they are living is the way they choose to live," she said. "I showed them what to do and I tried my best. How they are living seems normal to them. The wife gets the pension, but she doesn't spend it on the house, just wastes it. I have talked with them, pleaded with them, but the mother and daughter have just blocked me."

As for the elderly Vrolijk, Parrotte believes he ought to be able to get into a home on the Dutch side if he is receiving a pension from that side. Clarification could not be obtained immediately from SZV yesterday on the matter.

Despite spending a lot of time and money on the family, Parrotte said she was still willing to help if she was allowed to and fears for the children's welfare. She said there was a limit to what social services could do if the family persisted in refusing outside help. The question is whether the Collectivité has an obligation to intervene on humanitarian and sanitary grounds to regulate the situation despite resistance.

Vice-President Ramona Connor, who is in charge of the Department of Solidarity and Families, said she was not aware of this particular family's situation, but would enquire with social services to obtain a status report.

William: NA leadership transition expected in 2016

PHILIPSBURG--The leadership of the National Alliance (NA) may transition from current party leader Member of Parliament William Marlin to now deputy leader MP Silveria Jacobs at the 2016 NA Party Congress.

Asked at a press conference on Wednesday in Parliament House if discussions on leadership transition have taken place considering the results of the September 2014 Parliamentary Election that saw Jacobs gain more votes than him, Marlin said "absolutely not." There has not been any discussion to that effect.

Marlin said the reason for this is that he told the party congress in 2014 that he was ready for a transition as it is not his intention to remain party leader "for ever and ever."

Jacobs was elected deputy leader of the party at the 2014 congress.

However, it will be "up to the congress" to decide in 2016 "to make the transition," he said.

Marlin claimed it was the indication from him about the desire to transition the leadership of the party that may have reflected in the results of the election. He also said the transition has somewhat started as most of the party's administration such as press invitations and releases are "coming from the pen" of Jacobs.

Jacobs said, "When and if the transition happens" she would hope for Marlin's support in her endeavours in the "dog-eat-dog world." In that world, "not all of us have the canines for it."

Edward Dest gets symbolic sentence

PHILIPSBURG--More than four years after criminal complaints were filed against him in his capacity as former Tourist Bureau Interim Director and Head of Marketing, Edward Dest was found guilty by the court on Wednesday of embezzlement in his capacity as civil servant. However, the court imposed only a largely symbolic sentence of one day suspended, with one day's probation.

The judge found it proven that Dest had misappropriated funds belonging to the St. Maarten Tourist Office in New York NTO for promoting tourism to St. Maarten in North America and instead had used some US $20,000 for airfare, hotel rooms and daily allowances in Aruba, Panama and St. Maarten, and for the Tourist Bureau's Christmas dinner and Boardwalk Mas 2010 expenditures.

For these crimes, which were committed between June 1, 2009, and August 23, 2010, the Prosecutor had requested a suspended sentence of two months, with two years' probation. Dest initially also had been charged with money-laundering, but this charge was dropped.

Former Department of Finance head Bastiaan Roorda filed a criminal complaint against Dest, former Tourism Director Regina LaBega and civil servant L.C. in November 2010. As a result of the complaint, former Minister of Tourism Franklin Meyers suspended Dest and LaBega on November 3, 2010.

Meyers withdrew their suspensions on December 2, 2010, as there was lack of evidence of any wrongdoing, he said at the time. Dest is no longer working at the Tourist Bureau, as he fell seriously ill and has been declared unfit for work.

The complaints against him referred to an account with J.P. Morgan Chase Bank in New York with money to fund NTO on Fifth Avenue in New York City to promote tourism to St. Maarten in North America. The office received a monthly government contribution of $100,000 for marketing purposes in what was called the "essential market." However, it emerged that money from this account had been used for other purposes.

Dest had admitted to the court that he knew the money was destined to cover the NTO's operational cost. "The account of the Chase Bank was opened to pay the expenses of the office in the US," he had said. "The NTO budget entails rent, telephone expenses, salaries, trade shows, professional fees, travel expenses, et cetera. The travel expenses were from the US to St. Maarten and from St. Maarten to the US."

Dest initially was charged with eight counts of embezzlement, but the court found four of these counts not proven because former Commissioner of Tourism Frans Richardson had stated he had granted permission to make payments via the Chase Bank in these cases.

In sentencing, the court took into account that, except for the Christmas dinner, Dest had made these payments on behalf of and in the interest of tourism in St. Maarten. It was also taken into consideration that the crimes had been committed almost five years ago by a first offender.

Therefore, the judge deemed it appropriate to declare the defendant guilty without imposing a sentence. However, the current Criminal Code does not allow such a verdict, the judge said, and therefore it was decided to impose the lowest possible suspended sentence of one day, with one day's probation.

Attorney Janna Westra had said the Prosecutor's case against her client should be declared inadmissible because of undue delay of his trial and because he was the only suspect to stand trial.

Dest had been LaBega's successor as marketing director, had been guided by her and always had requested her permission to make payments, Westra said, in claiming it had not been primarily her client who had misappropriated money from the Chase bank account. LaBega had played a much bigger role in this than her client, the lawyer said. Westra claimed Dest had not had a fair trial and had been the victim of arbitrariness.

The court arrived at the conclusion that Dest's rights to a fair trial had not been violated and said the Prosecutor's Office had not made any decisions not to prosecute LaBega or L.C.

"The Prosecutor's Office is pleased with the conviction on several counts," said Prosecutor Nanouk Lemmers in a reaction. Asked whether the Prosecutor's Office would file for appeal against the sentence, Lemmers said the department would consider an appeal and make a statement later this week.

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