‘Uptown’ Crimes: “Messado–weh mi money deh?”

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Real Estate Attorney Jennifer Messado

If you were to go by the social status of criminals languishing in Jamaica’s jails you’d have to conclude that crime here is an occupation exclusively reserved for the have-nots. At least 95% of those convicted by Jamaican courts fall neatly into the lowest social classes in this society.

For the first time however, things appear to be changing. In the last few days news broke that prominent uptown real estate lawyer Jennifer Messado and an accomplice, had been arrested and charged with fraud among other things. In Messado’s case the charges ranged from property deals to forgery and money laundering.

In a separate case another prominent uptown lawyer Patrick Bailey was again questioned about the September 30, 2016 death of Jermaine Junior, a 51-year-old construction worker whose body was found with several stab wounds in Bailey’s living room. Rumour has it that Junior was a returning resident who had paid the attorney to buy property for him with nothing to show for it in the end. In June 2017 in another case Bailey was accused of defrauding St. Catherine businessman and land developer Stafford Dixon in a land deal.

It seems land theft and property fraud is rife amongst the legal fraternity in Jamaica although you wouldn’t know it judging by the cases brought to court and convictions. What is finally causing the police to take action in these new cases? While we ponder that question let’s look at some interesting tidbits from Jennifer Messado’s background.

Born Jennifer FitzRitsen, Messado went to a prominent high school in Kingston but was suspended in third form and sent to finish her studies in England, according to a classmate who claimed to have taught Messado her first bad word. The classmate couldn’t remember the reason for the suspension but recalled that Messado’s brother, also a lawyer, was murdered in a high profile case in the 70s.

That case was written up in the Jamaica Observer in 2013 (“Paul FitzRitson knew that he was marked for death” by Sybil E Hibbert) and the details are fascinating. On March 16, 1974 Paul FitzRitson, then executive chairman of National Sports Ltd  (now INSPORT the Jamaica institute of Sports ) and a popular Kingston lawyer, was killed by two armed robbers in the Norwood area of Montego Bay, St James.

FitzRitson’s murder followed other prominent killings in an unprecedented crime wave in 1974 that resulted in then Prime Minister Michael Manley instituting the infamous Gun Court. According to the Observer:

“The nation during this period was in turmoil. Especially after it was reported that the hard-working and dedicated FitzRitson — who resided at the time in Copacabana near Bull Bay, St Andrew, a quiet, middle-class community overlooking the blue waters of the Caribbean Sea — had reportedly left Kingston for Montego Bay the previous Friday in order to finalise plans for the telecast of the March 26 heavyweight fight between George Foreman and Ken Norton. This was scheduled to take place at the Palladium Theatre in the western city.

“And that very afternoon, prior to the fatal shooting, FitzRitson was reported to have dined at Ironshore with his good friend, the then Minister of Industry, Commerce and Tourism P J Patterson (later prime minister of Jamaica); the late executive chairman of the JIDC, Wesley Wainwright and Hopeton Caven, his colleague of the TUC, of which he (FitzRitson) was the legal advisor.”

But why was FitzRitsen killed? The case remains unsolved. According to the Observer:

“Speculation turned to the fact that quite two years prior, Paul FitzRitson had been the person — along with well-known producer Buddy Pouyatt and Beverley Anderson — who had proposed to then Opposition Leader Michael Manley that a Bandwagon show of Jamaican entertainers including the late Bob Marley and Peter Tosh; Alton Ellis, Judy Mowatt, Clancy Eccles, Delroy Morgan, Hopeton Lewis and Max Romeo, be used by campaign manager, Patterson, in mounting the programme for the 1972 general election on behalf of the PNP.

“By the following year, FitzRitson had been active in bringing to Jamaica, the still talked-about championship bout between boxing legend George Foreman and Joe Fraser o/c “Smoking Joe.” He was indeed a community organiser, with a particular interest in music and sports promotion, heavy accent on boxing.”

To return to the present it would be interesting to find out what has led to Messado’s arrest. Nationwide News’s Abka Fitz-Henley who was present in court when charges were pressed tweeted that ‘when #JenniferMessado was handcuffed & was being led out of the dock, an Attorney, Tamika Harris, said to her – “Messado a want mi money – weh mi money deh!?”. Messado had a wry smile but didn’t comment. She was then led away by Police to await bail processing.’

Apparently Harris was told to join the line, as the number of people with similar claims is growing by the minute. The charges against Messado appear to have been carefully constructed, down to a video released on social media less than a month ago showing the lawyer turned bailiff gleefully turfing tenants off their property.

The video below, capturing a situation rarely associated with uptown or with light-skinned people in Jamaica, already had tongues wagging. But Messado’s arrest a mere few weeks later has created a sensation that has Jamaicans agog. What can we expect next?

Panton and Panton: Brothers in crime?

White collar crime in Jamaica finally being uncovered? Desmond Panton arrested for massive tax evasion and fraud.In the 80s his brother Donald was accused of tax evasion too. Both brothers have a history of being accused of wrong-doing.

Desmond Panton, Daily Gleaner, August 17, 2010

News broke yesterday that Desmond Panton, a prominent Jamaican car dealer and general wheeler-dealer,  was arrested for tax evasion . As the Gleaner reported:

The Jamaica Customs Department yesterday closed down the operations of Key Motors Limited and arrested its owner, Desmond Panton, for alleged customs duty evasion.

The move came after a Customs Department audit of Key Motors’ operations reportedly discovered that some 50 vehicles were illegally removed from the company’s warehouse and illegally sold to un-suspecting customers, denying the government $40 million in customs duty.

A statement issued by the Customs Department late yesterday stated that Panton was arrested for customs duty evasion and taking steps to defraud the government of duties and taxes, after a meeting with Customs officials earlier in the day.

So finally a big fish has been arrested for a white collar crime. Interestingly in the eighties Desmond Panton’s brother Donald, was also accused of tax evasion amounting to millions of dollars. According to a January 22, 1992 Gleaner article:

THE government, pursuing its case to recoup millions in taxes it claims car mogul Donald Panton owes Jamaica, will now have access to Mr. Panton’s seven USA bank accounts…

The Jamaican government is hoping to use the January 13 ruling by Judge Stanley Marcus, under the US/Jamaica Tax Information Treaty, to buttress its case that Mr. Panton was liable for millions of dollars In taxes between 1981 and 1986.
The case is seen in legal circles as a test of the agreement for information sharing.

Panton, with interest in transport, rent-a-car, agriculture and banking is one of Jamaica’s wealthiest men He is brother to Desmond Panton whose Executive Motors is the dealer for Mazda motorcars Although their interest are separate, the Pantons between them would at one time or the other have controlled up to 80 per cent of Jamaica’s car Import business. Donald Panton became embroiled in the tax dispute with the government which In 1987 claimed millions of dollars in tax liabilities for the years 1981 to 1986 against the business tycoon. After a series of proceedings In the Supreme Court in 1988 the case appeared to have ended In Mr. Panton s favour with a ruling that he did not owe the kinds of taxes which had been claimed by the Jamaican government.

I don’t know if Donald Panton was ever charged or the money recovered. Between the two brothers it would appear that Jamaicans have been defrauded of enormous sums of money over the years. In 1990 there was even a kass kass between Desmond Panton and Butch Stewart, then president of the PSOJ (Private Sector Association of Jamaica). According to the Gleaner Mr. Stewart had said that dealers involved in second-sale  deals with motorcars, “should be put in jail”.

THE DAILY GLEANER, TUESDAY, APRIL 24, 1990 recounted another interesting case involving Desmond Panton:

‘Money pilot’ gets 2 years

THOMAS Vincent Lee. 39, Jamaican airplane pilot with American citizenship, was slapped with a two-year prison term on Friday when he appeared in a Fort Lauderdale court in Florida. Lee had pleaded guilty to knowingly and wilfully failing to declare US$598,319 to U.S. Customs when he landed a small plane at Commercial Executive Airport, Fort Lauderdale on November 7,1989. In his statement, Lee said he had flown the money from, Montego Bay on behalf of Kingston automobile dealer Desmond Panton and that the money was to pay for an'” aircraft being bought by Panton. Lee said that on November 5, he took a commercial flight to Kingston and the following day he got in touch with Mr. Desmond Panton whom he had known for three months. Lee said that Mr. Panton told him that if the deal was not closed by November 8, I989, he (Mr. Panton) would have to pay interest on the money owed. On Friday, Judge Vloch fined Lee U.S.S50, payable, immediately. The 24-month prison sentence was “deferred’ to a time and place to be determined by the US Bureau  of prisons. He is now on bail, but should report to U.S Marshalls in Miami, not later than July 6, 1990 to serve his term. On release from prison Lee will be placed on three years probation with special conditions attached. The Gleaner understands that the Jamaican Government is displaying keen interest in the case with a view to recovering the confiscated money which is now in the hands of U.S. Customs. It is understood that the Director of Public Prosecutions is still trying to get Lee to come here to assist in local investigations. Lee is also wanted on a warrant here in connection with a shipment of automatic weapons found on the Sangster International Airport runway, Montego Bay in October 1980. A warrant was issued for his arrest in 1981 and although he has been on frequent visits to Jamaica, it had not been executed.

Blow wow! While low-budget people are arrested for a spliff the likes of Lee and the Pantons walked free, despite serious charges such as tax evasion and import of automatic weapons against them.

According to the Daily Gleaner, FEBRUARY 2, 1990:

NINE years after warrants were issued for the arrest of airplane pilot Vincent Thomas Lee and another man, in connection with a consignment of arms found on the runway of the Sangster International Airport, Montego Bay, the warrants have not been executed. Police sources confirmed that the warrants were issued in January 1981 following investigations of the find of 10 rifles equipped with silencers, 12,000 cartridges and 17 magazines and instruction booklets. They refused to disclose the name of the other man involved. The arms were found in a canvas bag on the eastern section of the runway, shortly after Lee landed a Cessna aircraft there on October 24,1980.

FASCINATING. I wonder who the other man was. The date on which this cache of weapons was found is also interesting, for barely a week later, on October 30, 1980,  the historic Jamaican election when Michael Manley’s People’s National Party lost resoundingly to the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) led by Edward Seaga took place. As the newspapers put it “the JLP whipped the PNP 51 seats to nine, the biggest margin of victory in elections since Jamaica gained Independence from Great Britain in 1962.”

Pure almshouse and shenanigans. I wonder if Desmond Panton being brought to book at this moment has anything to do with the caged bird in New York singing…will we ever know? Will we ever recover from all this?