PHILIPSBURG--The Court of Appeals upheld the conviction and added two months of unconditional jail time to the sentence of attorney-at-law Brenda Brooks on Wednesday.
On May 30, 2018, the Court of First Instance sentenced Brooks to six months suspended on two years’ probation for bribery of an Immigration officer at Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA) in July 2016.
During the trial, the Prosecutor’s Office had requested that the Court sentence the lawyer to six months’ unconditional imprisonment for bribery and inciting an Immigration official to abuse her position. However, the Court only found bribery proven.
On Wednesday, Appeals Court judges sentenced Brooks to six months imprisonment, of which four months are suspended, on two years’ probation.
After the sentence was pronounced, Brooks immediately filed an appeal. The Prosecutor’s Office had also filed an appeal because it disagreed with the punishment.
The Court of First Instance had stated in its verdict that it was very “unlikely” that Brooks, as she had said, had only offered the sum of money because she was “shocked” that an Immigration official had attempted to bribe her and that she had wanted to conduct further investigations.
The Appeals Court agreed with this assessment by the Court of First Instance. However, it did not agree with the imposed punishment because it “insufficiently reflected the seriousness of the evidence.”
On April 23, 2016, an investigation into alleged malpractice among five members of the Immigration and Border Protection Service (IBPS) started under the name “Ostrich”. The investigation resulted, in August 2017, in the Court meting out a prison sentence of 20 months and a five-year ban on working within the civil service against the 37-year-old main suspect.
All five officers were suspected of human trafficking, bribery, accepting bribes and abusing their authority as civil servants, and were also charged with membership in a criminal organisation.
After extensive research into various parties involved, Brooks also came into the picture as a suspect of bribery. In WhatsApp conversations, Brooks asked an Immigration officer whether she could do anything to allow two employees of insurance company NAGICO, of which Brooks was a member of the Board of Trustees, to travel into the country without any problems. Brooks did not want these two persons to be unnecessarily asked for their papers.
One WhatsApp conversation ended in the bribery of an Immigration officer who was offered US $200 to ensure that these people would be allowed to enter St. Maarten. Furthermore, she had told one of the co-suspects “Tell her [an Immigration officer – Ed.] I gonna fix her up.” Two minutes later she sent a WhatsApp message reading, “So tell her I will give you both 200 bucks each.”
However, the deal was not closed as the officer in question requested more money – $600 – in exchange for her “services”.
Brooks had failed to report the incident to Police.
“The suspect apparently only had an eye for the interests of NAGICO and did not hesitate to realise them with the help of illegal means,” said the Appeals Court in its Wednesday verdict. “For the proper functioning of Immigration policy, it is essential that the rules are complied with, with integrity. Through her actions, the suspect not only rewarded the corrupt behaviour of Immigration staff, but also contributed to the negative perception of Immigration in public opinion.”
In an invited comment, Brooks said she would submit another appeal, this time to the Supreme Court. “I do not agree with the judgement ... in particular where the Court considered bribery proven despite the arguments presented pertaining to the legal requirements needed in order to prove there was bribery. I will continue my personal battle while remaining steadfast in serving my clients,” she said.