THE NIGHTMARE BEGINS
Melissa Ferguson didn’t immediately sense there might be trouble on July 15, 2016 when her husband called from Mr. Sancho’s Bar. Even though Mr. Sancho’s Bar was a sketchy place, even by Belizean standards, Danny could take of himself—he had the physique of a linebacker and he had driven there with six of his employees.
Mr. Sancho’s Bar was located on a gravel back road, in an industrial area, behind the Buca gas station, across from a compound of derelict vehicles, where cop cars were repaired behind a chain-link fence. Good mechanics are not a dime-a-dozen in Belize, so you take the best you can find. Danny used the same mechanic as the Belmopan police force.
Mr. Sancho’s Bar had two, open-air pool tables under a shanty-like roof, plus a large TV screen usually showing soccer. There was an outdoor urinal, without a door, in plain view from the gravel parking lot. If one can say Belize is off the beaten track as a nation, one can equally say Mr. Sancho’s Bar is off the beaten track in Belize.
No neighbours. No shade. No street lights. No street address. [Described as “Mr. Sancho’s Bar” in the police report, the establishment has been re-named Lighthouse Chinos Sports Bar although it’s nowhere near the ocean. It appears ownership has acquired a sign from a previous establishment called Lighthouse and chosen to re-use it inland.]
Due to the proximity of the mechanic’s compound, Mr. Sancho’s Bar was a hangout for off-duty police officers. Melissa consoled herself with the knowledge that her husband was on very good terms with the constabulary.
Danny had provided a loosely-worded loan of more than $50,000 U.S. for police barracks at Caye Caulker, plus another $10,000 U.S. to help fix the roof of their main station, as well as loan to the police soccer team. These were relatively informal transactions, validated by very basic written agreements. [See APPENDIX for a sample]
Danny Mason not only made himself the sole sponsor of the national police cycling team, for good measure he supported the local police soccer team by offering incentives to players for goals and he hosted community at his ranch at which the police were always welcome. Danny also hired police, sometimes under the direction of Glen Cadiz, Assistant Commander of the Gang Suppression Unit, to provide personal security and for events that he hosted.
Danny had been invited to Mr. Sancho’s Bar by Jesus “Cas” Castillo, a functionary for the governing United Democratic Party. Castillo called Melissa’s husband four times that day, urging him to come. Danny relented partly because he was fully aware that Castillo was a close associate of John Saldivar, arguably the second-most powerful man in Belize. As Minister of National Security, John Saldivar was in charge of the national Belize Police Department (BDP) with its approximately 1,200 officers for domestic law enforcement.
InSight Crime, an international foundation that investigates organized crime in Latin American and Caribbean countries, has recently summarized the role of police in Belize. “The force has a reputation for being corrupt and inefficient. Low levels of confidence in the police mean that some crimes, particularly robberies and assault, often go unreported. Witness protection, or lack thereof, is a problem, with many scared to come forward for fear of reprisal. The Belizean police force is under-resourced in areas, and poor training and limited oversight have fueled inefficiency and abuses. Low salaries for police officers make them susceptible to accepting bribes. According to the US State Department, the use of excessive force by security forces is a concern. The police force’s Gang Suppression Unit (GSU) in particular has been involved in a number of incidents where suspects have been beaten with baseball bats, and/or shot at with rubber bullets.”
John Saldivar was the main owner of the capital city’s foremost soccer team, the Belmopan Bandits, and Danny Mason, as an avid sports enthusiast, was paying Saldivar $84,000 U.S. for shares to make himself a co-owner. He was/is a shareholder. Hence, they socialized. When Canada came to play a CONCAF soccer match versus Belize, Saldivar supplied VIP tickets for Danny and Melissa to watch the game with him.
[Saldivar, conceivably eighty grand to the good, would later be reluctant to provide details, after Mason was incarcerated. He told 7newsbelize, “Well, it was over a period of time but I would say in excess of $50,000, for sure. Semi-pro football is not a cheap venture, as you know, and he hasn’t contributed anymore; he is not part of my organization.”]
Danny Mason and his workers arrived in the same four-door pick-up, around 5:30 pm (others mention 5:45 pm). His workers sat separately. Danny bought the beers for all of them. According to the barmaids, Danny remained at the bar for about two hours, without incident, seated with Jesus Castillo, some mechanics and Inspector Ismael Westby, who happened to be on work leave from the force.
Danny had never met Westby. Castillo introduced him. Danny bought Westby two stout. Westby then left to get a bottle of whiskey with one of Danny’s contracted workers, Ashton Venegas, and one of the mechanics. Westby didn’t return. [Westby’s subsequent report would somehow claim he had seen only five men arrive in the pick-up, not seven. This was odd because the waitresses were more inclined to estimate Danny’s contingent was closer to ten. Westby’s report inaccurately describes Danny wearing blue jeans. A level of complete accuracy is evidently not required from Belizean detectives.]
THE STRANGE ARREST
Danny had been at Mr. Sancho’s Bar for about two hours when he was approached by a male police officer, Sergeant Holly Vasquez, born in 1988, who told Danny that he wished to search Danny’s black, Ford-150 pick-up truck.
Danny wanted to know why. He naturally felt he was being disrespected. In terms of his public service record, Danny knew he was regarded as something of a golden boy when it came to supporting the police of Belize. Danny told Vasquez they were welcome to undertake a search if they produced a search warrant. Vasquez did not have a search warrant.
Danny was informed they were looking for the driver of a black pick-up truck, with four dark-skinned accomplices, in relation to a robbery that had occurred that day at an Income Tax office in Belmopan. The young sergeant was not being paid to ponder why a prominent citizen, with a large house and a 100-acre ranch, would want to risk such a hold-up in broad daylight, in his hometown.
Belmopan is by far the smallest capital city in the Americas. Danny, with his unusual skin colour—he was often mistaken for an “East Indian”—was widely recognizable. The fact that everyone knew there would be little cash in a government Income Tax office anyway was also not deemed relevant.
Danny’s co-workers were ready to lend support. Police reported they blocked access to the vehicle. These allegations remain matters of opinion. Regardless, a heavily armed swat team very quickly arrived to support the police who were already at the bar. Vasquez frisked Danny and found his legally registered 9 mm pistol. This was not a problem. Like many people in the U.S., Danny was permitted to own several weapons for self-defence. Any resident who reads Belizean newspapers on a regular knows daily life in Belize can be deadly, particularly in Belize City.
[The Mexican drug gang, the Zetas, and the Sinaloa Cartel, have had links to Belize; street gangs, such as the George Street Bloods, the Brick City Bloods, the Majestic Alley Crips and Ghost Town Crips are loosely modelled on the rival U.S. street gangs, the Bloods and the Crips.]
If they could afford to do so, most Belizeans preferred to own firearms for self-protection. Due to his connections to John Saldivar, and his generous donations, Danny had once been able to receive ten gun licenses on the same day that his application had been made—an almost unprecedented occurrence in Belize.
At the time, Danny was naive enough to believe that skipping the queue was only a good thing. This information would be leaked to the press after his arrest to prove he was a deceitful character. Of course, the names of those within the Belize government who had facilitated this preferential treatment were not pursued. His friends for this transaction were Frank “Papa” Mena and Russell Blackett.
A problem only arose when Danny was unable to find his car keys. They had been using his keys to open some of the beers, but Danny had risen from his table to be searched by Vasquez.
How on earth did those keys disappear?
Danny went back to the table where he had been sitting with Jesus Castillo. He was incredulous. Why would anyone want to grab his keys from the table? It just made no sense. His pick-up was right there, in plain view, so who could possibly attempt to steal it? A search of the small establishment was made, to no avail.
Later, from prison, Mason would recall events of that evening for Love News: “I stopped by the bar, and the police came and started hassling everybody. I was sitting down, and I couldn’t see anything. I got up and asked, ‘What seems to be the issue?’ I didn’t understand anything, the point where they wanted to search my car. I asked them if they had a search warrant, and they said, ‘We want to search your car. I go, wow, wow, wow, it seems like I’m targeted here for something.’ When I went back to [get] my keys, my keys weren’t on the table. Someone took my keys, and there were a lot of people at the bar. The whole place was packed with a lot of cars. A lot of SPUs, a lot of police, a lot of people came in… I didn’t have a clue about what was going on, me and my guys.”
The main waitress who was serving them, Rosa Lillian Lozano, would never be called as a witness during the subsequent trial. The court would therefore never learn if Ms. Lozano had any non-professsional relationship with one of the two men with whom Danny was seated. She now lives in San Pedro. Danny wanted her to be called as a witness but his legal representation would not comply. Logically, the people who were most able to take the keys while Danny was being searched nearer to his vehicle were Ms. Lozano or Jesus Castillo.
Bizarrely, or else logically, depending on your choice of perspective, the person who had invited Danny to the bar that night and the person who he had been seated with Danny for more than two hours turned out to be the same person who had first introduced Danny to the murder victim.
Jesus Castillo would never be required to give any testimony at the trial. His crucial phone records for that day and night were never made available to the defence lawyers. This key witness, a close associate of John Saldivar, was somehow excused from having any presence at the trial presided over by Magistrate Moore.
The errant set of keys would miraculously reappear later that night. One media outlet noted they were discovered “in the washroom area of the establishment.” The court or media would never seriously question how or why a set of keys could disappear and then reappear, as if by magic. These keys would only be found after police brought one of the co-accused back to the bar much later that night, thereby making it ostensibly possible that one of Danny’s own men had somehow pocketed the keys—even though none of them had been seated at the same table where Danny had used his key chain to open drinks.
Police would also invent a claim that Danny had told them his wife had driven him to Mr. Sancho’s Bar that night and she had the keys. This was clearly a lie because the waitresses saw Danny opening drinks with his key chain.
Unrecorded in the initial police report, Danny then agreed to call Melissa and ask her to find a spare set of keys. During their quick phone call, Danny assured Melissa she needn’t worry. He would come to the house with the police and get some spare keys, right away.
Danny was handcuffed sometime after 8 pm. It is important to note that Sergeant Holly Vasquez accompanied Danny Mason when the police drove him away from Mr. Sancho’s bar.
The unlit road to their isolated house on Intelco Hill was dirt, not gravel. If you missed one of the turns, you could drive for twenty minutes in dense bush. At night, Melissa estimated it would take the police and Danny about twenty minutes to get to the summit of Intelco Hill; it would take her only about two minutes to walk down to the locked gate.
She found a set of Ford keys and waited anxiously. One of her best defence mechanisms had always been to put a smile on her face, but there was nobody with her in the hilltop house except her dogs. She trusted Danny would be keeping his cool. After their ten years together, she knew Danny’s basic modus operandi: never appear weak. She would do her best to emulate that.
The dogs were happy for an unscheduled moonlight walk. As Melissa proceeded with a flashlight, she once more appreciated their winding driveway. It was another business investment for their proposed wine bar and grill. If they were to transform their home into a private venue for parties and dinners, a venture that was about to commence any day now, they needed this all-weather driveway for the heavy rains. That way customers could make it up to the cement parking area that was located beneath their sprawling house on stilts, erected in the traditional Belizean style.
Danny had big plans. He foresaw the need for Belmopan to expand its presence as a capital city by adding a conference center, a steak house, perhaps a casino, while they were getting a license to host private events at the home they had purchased from Americans and planned to refurbish as another investment.
When the contractor for improving the driveway, Mike Padilla, had demanded to be paid before it was finished, Danny had responded as if he was still living in Toronto. He assured the contractor he would get paid when the job was completed. The contractor threatened to take his grievance to the Acting Commissioner of Police, Russell Blackett; and Danny was not impressed. After all, not long after they had arrived in Belize, Russell Blackett had been friendly and given the couple a pitbull—which everyone agreed should be named CJ for Criminal Justice. But to Danny’s surprise, even though he had no jurisdiction as a magistrate, Blackett had sided with the contractor and told Danny he should pay the contractor before the driveway job was done. Hardly anything involving money in Belize would be without complications and police officers could act as debt collectors, at the whim of Blackett.
Around 8:40 pm, at the gate, it was a shock for Melissa to see Danny, in handcuffs, illuminated by headlights, with about four cops on each side of him. She handed over the set of keys, assuming they were his spare set for the black pick-up. Melissa would not remember exactly was said the last time she saw her husband as a free man.
THE NAME CHANGE
Born on April 25, 1968, in Roblin, Manitoba, Melissa Ferguson had always dreamed of one day living in the tropics.
After graduating from the University in Saskatchewan, she started working for major pharmaceutical companies (Pfizer, Bayer) in Toronto where she fell in love with a charismatic and multi-faceted man who had a Fijian father and a Guyanese mother.
Hoping to be a surgeon, Rajesh Ouellet—who went by the nickname Teddy and had never used his birth name since early childhood—had pursued medical studies in Florida and Canada, while maintaining his abiding passion for developing renewal energy technology, having attended Devry Institute of Science and Technology. Earlier he had trained to become a private investigator in Canada in the 1980s and early 1990s.
As a pilot and investor, he flew for a small charter company out of Niagara Falls, and he was as investor in Stylus, a Canadian model management agency.
Melissa herself was never a model but she helped him start the Canadian Fashion Association and a magazine they called Fabric. Teddy loved to start new ventures, new businesses. Their educations and interests would eventually mesh in the field of supplying medical equipment.
While he remained married within an estranged relationship, Melissa first lived with Teddy in Toronto for several years before they went to live in Barbados and Guyana (where he had been born). By this time the pair had formed a medical supplies company to assist CARICOM countries with acquisition of technical equipment.
After several successful contracts, the pair realized they could potentially operate their business from anywhere in the Caribbean. They first arrived in Belize City for a visit in January of 2014, having contacted a real estate agent on-line in order to look at several farms that were for sale. The agent and his wife were anxiously awaiting their arrival at the Princess Hotel, where breakfast is included with the rental of a room.
Within a short few days, Teddy couldn’t even walk out of the elevator without having someone waiting to introduce themselves. The influx of friendly Belizean officials was so persistent that they soon chose to take breakfast in their room instead.
Keen to get to know the would-immigrants at the Princess Hotel were Erwin Contreras, who became Minister of Trade Investment, Private Sector Development and Consumer Protection in 2012, Minister of Tourism and Civil Aviation Manuel Heredia and his wife, Arthur Saldivar (brother of John Saldivar), Salvador Fernandez, Phillip Palacia (now deceased), Elvin Penner, Joe Mena and Patty Franks. The couple soon took an apartment, partly to escape from the constant stream of well-wishers.
After many meetings, Danny Mason was lured into getting involved in an elaborate scheme which he eventually realized was mainly devised for the purpose of stealing his money. With such a strong scent of corruption in the air, a wiser man who have turned tail. But Danny was always ambitious and he saw Belize as an ideal opportunity to make a clean break with the past, a chance for rebirth.
In 2014, Melissa’s partner’s legal name was still Teddy Ouellet. In Canada, where a large portion of eastern Canada spoke French, having Ouellet as a surname was not a major stumbling block, but that first name, Rajesh, after 9/11, was problematic. Nobody could say or spell it. With his dark skin, Rajesh was sometimes treated with suspicion at airports—even though he had grown up in Australia. Consequently, for many years he had preferred the nickname Teddy,chosen by his mother. The Creoles of Guyana had been unable to say or remember Teddy so they had called him Danny instead.
Obviously a more British-sounding name in a place formerly called British Honduras would make more practical sense. In Belize, having a strange East Indian-sounding first name combined with a hard-to-spell French surname was doubly cumbersome. Nearly everyone he met at the Princess Hotel would ask him to explain where he was from.
With each meeting, it was same tedious litany: Yes, he had been born in Guyana but he’d left Guyana at age two. As a boy, he’d lived in Caines and Brisbane. In 1979, he had lived in South Africa. As a teen, he went to school in Barbados. He had some Maori ancestry yet his father was from Fiji. They had met in Toronto, where he had already been living for about eighteen years.
Clearly life might be a helluva lot easier in Belize if he had a simpler name. Danny was offered and he accepted Economic Citizenship and Naturalization for Belize with the name, William Alexander Mason, for the cost of $100,000 BZ (that’s $50,000 U.S.). He was assured that genuine documents would be supplied for a Belizean Passport, Birth Certificate, Social Security card, Driver’s License and Voters ID card.
Later, media would have a field day alleging that “Danny Mason” was an illegitimate alias and he was hiding his real name, Rajesh Ouellet. The facilitators for these transactions were UDP cabinet John Saldivar and Alvin Penner.
Danny’s father died in Australia in April of 2014, so the couple would later be buoyed by a $650,000 U.S. inheritance. Danny entered Belize via his Guyanese passport, but he also had a Canadian passport.
Only Melissa Ferguson has hers now.
From the outset, it would have been easy for the police to examine the rear deck of the pick-up. It was never locked. It was covered only by a soft cover. And yet Belmopan police avoided looking there. Instead they elected to wait another forty-five-minutes while police officers, including Sergeant Holly Vasquez, drove with Danny to Intelco Hill and back. During this impasse, Belmopan police who were under the direction of Acting Commissioner of Police Russell Blackett were able to evacuate the Mr. Sancho’s Bar area of all personnel who were not directly connected to the police department.
Police would allege that some of Mason’s workers had initially stymied Sergeant Vasquez from searching the vehicle, but as soon as a flotilla of heavily-armed police arrived as back-up, obviously it would have been easy to search the vehicle by smashing a window—which is what they eventually did much later. Instead police opted to undertake the search much later, when there were no unaffiliated witnesses.
Sergeant Solomon Westby of the Belmopan Police Formation would later claim it was he who just happened to be “socializing” at the Sancho’s Bar [known in Spanish as El Santo] when he saw Mason and he called for back-up, thereby facilitating the search and the arrest. The fact that Westby was actually drinking with Mason at the same table was information that the police, in their wisdom, deemed unworthy of including in the terse report.
It would be officially deemed “a matter of luck” by a law enforcement official on the television news that five suspects for the supposed Income Tax Office robbery had been apprehended, thereby leading to the unintended and unforeseen apprehension of five murder suspects.
As it turned out, the couple had one Ford pick-up for Intelco Hill for their ranch outside of Belmopan. In her alarm, Melissa had inadvertently given the police the spare set of keys to their other Ford pick-up. When the police returned to Mr. Sancho’s Bar and discovered the keys would not open the four-door cab of Danny’s Ford pick-up, they would have no difficulty whatsoever smashing a window on the driver’s side.
The notion that Danny was a robbery suspect was bogus, so what could this be about? Could this be another dispute with one of his contractors? That afternoon, at the ranch, a contractor named Richard Smith, who was building greenhouses for him had showed up with a police escort, demanding payment. After the driveway incident with Blackett, Danny had made it a practice to have clearly written contracts so he could not be intimidated again. [See APPENDIX item]
The contract for the completion of four new greenhouses on the ranch was far from complete and the contractor had signed an agreement requiring him to have completed his side of the bargain by June 17, almost a month before. Like the driveway contract with Padilla, Smith had taken his woes to Blackett. As verified by Officer Clinton Thomas, some of the same officers who were at Mr. Sancho’s Bar intent on arresting Mason that night were some of the same officers that Blackett had sent to the ranch that afternoon to serve as his highly irregular collection agency.
Danny quickly called the contractor for the greenhouses, hoping to get him to reassure the police that matters between them had been resolved.
By this time Blackett had arrived at the scene.
The fact that there was a long delay prior to searching the vehicle would not be mentioned in the official police report. In fact, the police report gives the impression that the vehicle must have been searched without delay. It entirely omits the vital information that Danny was physically removed from the Mr. Sancho’s Bar area before conducting a search. A shotgun was found inside the cab, along with two 9 mm magazines for his legal, 9 mm pistol, but Danny tried to keep his cool. It wasn’t until after a search of the seating area that police proceeded to look inside the easily-accessible truck bed canopy.
Inside a sack, in a black bucket, within a pink plastic bag, on ice, they found a severed human head, partially obscured by duct tape.
Enough of the head was exposed for Danny to clearly discern the identity of the victim. Danny recognized the forehead and eyes of a highly irregular character who was chronically in need of money. This was (the late) Llewellyn Valentine Lucas, age 47.
Police and media reporting has led the public to presume that it was Sergeant Holly Vasquez who discovered the head by surprise. Vasquez was publicly commended for his work on this case by the government. If the accused had had competent and responsible defence counsel for the trial, attorneys would have demanded to call forth all officers present at Mr. Sancho’s Bar from approximately 8 p.m. onwards to ascertain who, among the constables and officials at Mr. Sancho’s Bar that night, was really the first person to roll back the unlocked canopy. The possibility clearly exists that the severed head of Pastor Lue could have been placed in the rear of Danny Mason’s vehicle while Danny Mason and Sergeant Vasquez were absent from Mr. Sancho’s Bar.
This avenue of investigation remains unexplored and unmentioned.
“WHEEL BARROW” AND PASTOR LUE
Llewellyn Lucas was self-described as a “Bornagain [sic] Christian” who sometimes preached without any credentials as Brother Lue.
As one of six children born to Stanley and Ceona Lucas, he said his father was one of the first Garifuna from the south, in the Toledo District, to move north and work on the construction of the new inland capital, Belmopan, the creation of nation founder George Price.
Estranged from his father, who died of alcoholism at age 42 in 1982, Lucas was himself plagued with serious health issues in the early 1990s. He claimed to have seen many doctors in New York City and Guatemala City before leaving Belize in August of 1994 to live in the U.S. He believed he was going to die from colon cancer in 1999.
“I was so sick,” he once wrote, “whenever I went to the Belmopan Hospital the nurses nodded their heads and said here is again, go get the book. My medical records were so thick they referred to it as the book.”
Eventually, Lucas took leave from a job with the Belize Social Security Board and went on 100% disability, giving him more time for proselytizing and politics. In March of 2014, he claimed he was invited to Punta Gorda to assist with a political campaign for Wil Mejea who had agreed to pay for his living expenses. After six days in a hotel run by Pastor Larry Smith, the hotel bill was not taken care of, as promised, and Mejea claimed he did not know Lucas. After Larry Smith had Lucas incarcerated in the Punta Gorda jail for four-and-a-half days, Lucas would claim police brutality and describe Smith as an imposter pastor.
In June of 2015, he ran in a by-election in Dangriga and received only 14 votes. In November of 2015, he ran again, this time in the riding of Toledo East, for the Belize Green Independence Party stressing a new “CHRIST-centered” education policy. “Anyone under the age of 18 caught on the streets between working hours and are not enrolled in school or having a job will be sent to military school.” If elected, he promised to build a new hospital so the world would want to come to Belize for treatment. He promised free medical care for all Belizeans. He received five votes.
Undeterred, Lucas had God on his side. “My Dad didn’t want me, my ex-wife don’t want me, a lot of people don’t like or want me, but JESUS CHRIST do and that’s all that matters to me!!!” Lucas’s divorce proceedings in the U.S. dragged on for eight years until he ran out of money to pay his legal fees. Nonetheless, he fancied himself as something of a ladies man.
In 2015, Lucas advertised to find single women to be cast in a reality show to be called Beauty and the Beast. “You have to be between the age of 22 to 26, a virgin, Belizean, and you cannot be white or African.” He later refined his invitation. “You have to be between the age of 22 to 26, a virgin, Belizean, and you cannot be fat, white or African. Serious candidates inbox me!!!”
In Belize, where fundamentalist Christian churches are dominant, Pastor Lue was known for his abhorrence of gays and the rising LGBTQ agenda. [Same-sex sexual activity remained illegal in Belize until 2016.] Lucas was also adamantly opposed to modern feminism. Men and women were not equal and God made them that way.
It was Jesus Castillo who brought Lucas to Intelco Hill and asked Danny give to him some work on the grounds that Castillo had known Lucas since childhood. By this time Danny had a relatively sophisticated hiring procedure—application forms, etc.—but Danny was willing to make an exception as a favour to Castillo. Initially, Danny and Melissa had no idea that Lucas fancied himself as a preacher. It was only when they heard someone’s wife address him as Pastor Lew that they had any idea. Castillo had made no mention of it.
When some rudimentary labouring tasks were suggested around the property, Lucas advised Melissa that physical labour was beneath his station. He claimed he was formerly a millionaire in the U.S. but his brother has somehow taken his fortune. Always on the lookout for financial handouts—Danny paid for the medicine for Lucas’ mother—Lucas was given clothing, food, transportation funds, a company phone and phone credit. Essentially, the couple were as generous to Llewellyn Lucas as anyone in the country.
The public never knew this.
When Lucas began to make odd requests for special lunches outside of meal times, there was much less incentive for Mason and Ferguson to continue to make allowances for him. Gradually he stopped coming around the house but he did keep calling, asking for money to be sent to him.
Consequently, he appears highly unlikely that Danny Mason would have ever entrusted serious business affairs to this person.
Lucas went into a tailspin when he was expecting to have access to his savings account at the St. John’s Credit Union to pay for his spiralling legal bills. Due to his ongoing deposits for 26 years, he had been expecting to have access to $10,000 U.S. whereupon he was told he had only $1,400 left. Monies had been requisitioned, he was told, to pay for his 15-years-unpaid student loan. This is his version of events.
Lucas began broadcasting his plight on Facebook. He commenced a 30-day countdown. “People be very careful. St. John’s Credit Union you (have) 30 days to give me my money.” His public campaign against the financial institution led to more accusations and threats in December of 2015. “St. John’s Credit Union you stole $56,000 plus 26 years interest of my money. What should your punishment be? I want my money!!!”
Eventually St. John’s Credit Union took legal action against Lucas, alleging libel. By January, Lucas described himself as homeless and hungry. That would prevent him from publicizing his plight or his Christian views.
“I have to step up my game a bit,” he wrote, in April of 2015.
After he was escorted out of the Credit Union by a security guard, Lucas decided he would start addressing his appeals directly to the cabinet minister who represented Belmopan, someone he happened to know from his childhood—John Saldivar.
“Mr. Saldivar, I am appealing to your good conscience. We were friends at one point in life. I was even your campaign manager…” Lucas outlined their family connections, expressed his gratitude for Saldivar’s previous actions and outlined a need to liberate his mother from a care facility so she might die at 13 Cayo Street. “Today I am finally asking you for help. I have never asked you for anything before but I need you to go talk with my sister Thisbe and go to St. John’s Credit Union and tell them to give that man his money.”
Lucas started a countdown of seven days, pressuring John Saldivar to help him as an old friend, under Facebook scrutiny.
On Day 6, he wrote, “I remember as kids when we were in the Boy Scouts… John, you were my troop leader. We had a lot of fun times, especially at camp… John Saldivar, I was not created by God to be poor, broke, hungry and homeless. Please, I beg you to go see my little sister, Thisbe, and tell St. John’s Credit Union to give me my money for you all don’t want any problems with me!!!!”
On Day 5, he wrote, “Johnny boy I remember when we were altar boys at the Catholic Church. Our moms were so proud of us. They were very good friends, as you know. They prayed together…”
Lucas’s Facebook account was temporarily terminated before he could complete his John Saldivar countdown to Day 1. Evidently, somebody was reading his messages. His attempt to publicly embarrass John Saldivar appeared to be at an end.
But Lucas was literally one of those people who could not help himself.
On June 30, he was foolish enough to post just one more message, goading Salvidar to help. He issued a Commandment.
“John Saldivar, go and get my money from St. John’s Credit Union and while you’re at it pick up the keys for 13 Cayo Street!!!”
It is tempting to speculate as to whether or not this volley across the bow of John Saldivar might have been Lucas’s undoing.
It must not be overlooked that Llewellyn Lucas also went out of his way to insult another proud and high-ranking man.
“Mr. Barrow’s father should have named him ‘Wheel’ instead of ‘Dean.’
“All the resources and wealth of this beautiful Jewel he is backing away from himself, his family and his crunies [sic] just like Musa, George C. Price and the others did.
“His father should have named him ‘Wheel Barrow’ instead of ‘Dean Barrow.’”
There still exists a lack of clarity as to how many workers were brought to Mr. Sancho’s Bar. Because some of the staff estimated there were “about eight” men in the vehicle, that figure has been incorporated into the public record, but Mason recalls only two men who were not simultaneously arrested with him: Tyrell Shepard and Lemar Dawson.
The more important fact is that the police wanted to arrest only four of Mason’s alleged accomplices—because this would match the number of gang members who had allegedly assisted in a robbery at the Income Tax office, serving the police as their pretext for the search.
At least one of these two workers who were not arrested would be severely beaten and availed upon to provide incriminating testimony.
The four co-accused with Danny Mason were Asthon Venegas (29) of Camalote village and three men from Roaring Creek Village: brothers Keiron Fernandez (29) and Terence Fernandez (30), as well as Ernest Henry Castillo (age 23, apparently no relation to a key figure in the overall story, Jesus “Cas” Castillo).
Just before Danny was arrested and his cel was confiscated, Melissa received a final text message.
“Get an attorney right away.”
THE KISS OF DEATH
Since Biblical times, when Salome and her mother Herodias had the head of John the Baptist delivered on a platter, the ancient act of decapitation has been easily imagined and has retained its mystique. In Hollywood movies, it is acceptable as public theatre. These days, by the time we are teenagers, we have all seen adventure movies in which a bare-chested behemoth, wearing a black mask, appears on an elevated podium, ready to wield his gigantic axe… and we are simultaneously horrified if terrorists post videos.
With the advent of government legislation, decapitation was inculcated into the public conscience as an ostensibly humane form of killing, most famously after France introduced the humane and efficient guillotine. [Leo Tolstoy, as a young man, once witnessed the clinical ease of a public decapitation in France and was so horrified that he developed a belief system that directly inspired Gandhi and Martin Luther King.]
However, it’s done, beheading is not likely to be a spontaneous action. You need planning. In Belize, someone could have easily shot Llewellyn Lucas in the back of the head and tossed him into some remote bushes; nobody would have missed him for days. So, premeditation was involved. If any reasonably intelligent person sits down and analyzes this killing, it makes absolutely no sense for Danny Mason to kill Llewellyn Lucas while he was also helping to pay medical bills for Lucas’s mother.
It makes even less sense for Mason to drive around Belmopan with a severed head in his unlocked trunk, and then proceed to a bar frequented by police.
Either Danny and his workers had ostensibly undertaken a gruesome murder at the behest of somebody else and they were obliged to present proof of their actions with a severed head; or else Danny Mason was duped into kidnapping the victim and dropping him off at pre-arranged location between Intelco Hill and the outskirts of Belmopan.
For the former supposition to hold true, Mason would not have sat for at least two-and-a-half hours at Mr. Sancho’s Bar drinking—as we know he did. Mr. Sancho’s Bar is an out of the way place. There is a potholed back road that leads behind the bar. If Mason was obliged to show proof of a grisly murder, it would have taken him literally twenty seconds to drive his vehicle to a place nearby that was private. It defies all logic to claim he might have waited more than two hours to do so.
This could not have been a crime of passion. It had to be something far more complicated and the Belizean public went along with the most simplistic explanation that was provided by police. By not having Jesus Castillo under any obligation to appear in court for this trial, an intelligent reader might easily conclude that Magistrate Moore was making a conscious decision to opt for the easiest pathway through the trial—by relying on the police force of Belize to supply its selective evidence.
Without a crime scene, without a murder weapon, without a body, Belizean police knew the public might not entirely accept the notion that a smart man such as Danny Mason could have cut someone’s head off, for no apparent reason, and then have taken the evidence of his vicious crime in an unlocked compartment of his own pick-up truck to a place where police were known to hang out—so some DNA evidence was imperative.
One theory was never explored thoroughly in court: when Teo Fernandez was brought back to Mr. Sancho’s Bar, later that night, ostensibly to help the police look for errant keys, the police at Mr. Sancho’s Bar allegedly forced Fernandez to lean over and kiss the remains of Llewellyn Lucas.
The police were so keen to incriminate Fernandez, the leader of the workers, that they even went so far as to tamper with evidence by extracting the head from the bucket in order to force Fernandez to kiss it.
Cruelty could be one explanation. For more likely, in the dark, Teo Fernandez would not have been able to notice if some of Lucas’ blood had been smeared onto the the tailgate section of the vehicle.
Even if Fernandez had been able to notice, after that bizarre kiss of death, it would be much too late for him to do anything about it.
The DNA laboratory in the United States would not question how precisely the bloodied evidence had been gathered. That was not their job. They were technicians. The DNA experts would have no idea whether or not there were any impartial witnesses still at Mr. Sancho’s Bar by the time Fernandez was supposedly brought back to the bar to search for the missing keys.
Teo Fernandez was only able to convince his final attorney to raise this matter in his closing argument but, without any proof, as an eleventh-hour anecdote, the accusation of police misconduct was not taken seriously by the judge.
Meanwhile, there are also photos that prove Belmopan Police did not take the severed head directly to a hospital or to a separate police forensic laboratory, as they were obliged to do. Instead, the head first went to the Belmopan police station. There the accused also had their clothing confiscated. These photos will be shown during a subsequent post.
BLACK AT THE RANCH
Due to the photo of Llewellyn Lucas’s head posted by the police on Facebook, the public very quickly decided that Danny Mason was a monster, and therefore his wife must be a monster, too.
The public was not provided with any background on the couple beyond some very unsophisticated allegations on a less than credible website claiming, without a speck of evidence, that Mason was an unscrupulous businessman. They knew next-to-nothing about Melissa Ferguson.
Raised on the Canadian prairies, Ferguson loved animals, so the couple had first bought a swath of ranch land at Mile 31 (or Mile 32—reports vary) on the Western Highway outside Belmopan. With a tiny wooden house on stilts, this scrub-land Ponderosa for raising pigs and horses was rustic but it was theirs, to develop, legally, with horses and dogs. Ferguson, who is childless, loves her dogs. And horses.
Horses were expensive and they had forty-five of them. They were hoping to offer horseback riding and trail rides with a newly hired staff. At the ranch the could also offer stud services and an equine therapy program. The prized racehorse was Black Jack. Unfortunately, when both Danny and Melissa were brought into custody, Belizean officials were unconcerned about the fate of their livestock and Black Jack was among the many fatalities.
Most horses were simply stolen. But Commander Matt, or “Black Jack,” their prized race horse from the USA, was starved to death at the ranch while police investigations was underway. Melissa made numerous calls, including those to her “apparent” attorney who finally sent a letter to Blackett that would allow workers into the Outbank Ranch compound to feed the animals. Several animals died due to no access to water and feed while access was denied by Belizean police, but loss of the beautiful stallion cut the deepest.
Danny excelled as a chef; Melissa could be well-organized as a polite hostess; they were both adept at accounting; so they set about transforming their home on Intelco Hill, with its promontory deck overlooking Belmopan, into a private venue for gourmet dinners, buying restaurant machinery and interviewing potential employees, intent on catering to a small elite. The projected start date was September 1, 2016. Staff had already been trained.
Nearly all the top politicians in the capital of Belmopan were happy to attend their parties. A snoopy guest at one of the house parties might have noticed one of Melissa’s paperbacks was about learning leadership skills from Mahatma Gandhi.
It is a fact of post-colonial life in Belize that foreign men who weren’t considered successful in the U.S. or Canada or Great Britain can show up in Belize and start to convince themselves they could be bigshots. More often than not, status-craving wannabes will hook up with local women to make themselves appear more potent. Danny Mason was higher up the masculine food chain. He was well-educated, physically strong, articulate, something of a gourmand and he had a white, trophy wife. It was important to him to appear as a self-made man with fingers in lots of pies. The inheritance would not be mentioned.
Everyone knew Danny’s new name. He had developed relationships with Deputy Prime Minister Patrick Faber, City Councillor Philip Willoughby and Frank “Pawpa” Mena, the area representative for Dangriga, Sarawee and Hope Creek, and, best of all, Danny had close ties with John Saldivar, who also oversaw the Gang Suppression Unit (GSU) formed in 2010. Danny Mason was willing to hire the GSU for hosted events that required security. In Belize, police can literally be bought. Danny was befriending everyone, left and right. Danny Mason thought he understood how the game was played. With his varied donations, sponsorships and loosely defined loans, he never imagined the GSU would want to mess with him. He was doing so much to help the powers-that-be—if anything, they owed him, didn’t they?
THE TURNING POINT
In retrospect, it’s easy to suggest that Danny Mason’s problems only began after he agreed to host a victory party at his home for Patrick Faber in March of 2016.
After the post of First Deputy Leader was vacated by former Deputy Prime Minister Honourable Gaspar Vega, Patrick Faber and John Saldivar had locked horns for an aggressive three-month campaign to replace him.
Patrick Faber was clearly going to be John Saldivar’s chief rival if he hoped to replace Dean Barrow at the end of Barrow’s third term sometime in 2020.
Faber defeated Saldivar in 2016.
Prior to the party at his house for Faber, Danny Mason sent a message via Councillor Chacon to invite John Saldivar to show up at that party. Saldivar was a sore loser and chose not to attend. Danny and Melissa were assured by a UDP finances spokesman that all the alcohol and drinks had already been purchased and brought from Mexico, so they needn’t do much in term of preparation. The couple rescinded some construction projects in order to ensure this evening would be a success and hoped to use the evening as a training exercise for their new staff as they prepared to transform their home into a restaurant.
Approximately 300 happy people showed up for a victory party. Not one guest brought a single bottle of alcohol. No reimbursement was ever forthcoming from the UDP.
Mason chose not to make a fuss. After all, didn’t this mean they owed him?
Danny Mason thought he was smart enough to play it both ways, befriending both Saldivar and Faber, but buying influence in Belize is a tricky game. Whereas Danny Mason was confident he could win in the game of Snakes and Ladders, anyone who Googles his name nowadays will see he was mistaken.
The importance of this party held for Patrick Faber cannot be over-stated. In essence, Patrick Faber said to Danny, “We have got your back and don’t worry about John. He is jealous of you talking to us.” In return for lending support to Faber, both monetary and otherwise (the huge party), Mason was expecting to get approval for a slaughterhouse as well as a licence to transform their Intelco Hill home into a casino.
After the party, Danny Mason received this message from John Saldivar via WhatsApp:
“Don’t burn this bridge or it’s going to be very bad.”
Danny replied that no one was burning any bridges. He was just a businessman. UDP was dividing itself and he was just caught somewhere in the middle.
The Belizean version of Snakes and Ladders is a very strange game. The person donating money to politicians is actually making themselves more vulnerable, more susceptible to coercion. The more Danny proved his generosity, the more the snakes were keen to play him for a fool by slithering up to him and acting friendly.
After Danny Mason had provided considerable political funding to Patrick Faber, the beneficiary Patrick Faber would later deny he had ever received money. In Belize it is possible to simply deny the truth. The media will happily relay the message to the public.
When Jesus Castillo asked Mason for a UDP campaign donation of $20,000 BZ ($10,000 U.S.), Melissa pleaded with him not to donate. They were having difficulty meeting the staff payroll for construction and renovations. As well, Danny had been keen to install a very extensive surveillance camera system throughout the property because their place was isolated and Melissa was often left alone in the huge house. But Danny wouldn’t listen. He gave to Castillo again anyway.
On the night of July 15, 2016, Melissa Ferguson was still trying to tell herself this crazy kerfuffle at Mr. Sancho’s Bar must surely be the result of some gigantic misunderstanding.
In fact, one could argue that it might have had much more to do with Danny Mason failing to fully understand the import of John Saldivar’s threatening WhatsApp message.
Ever since then, Danny Mason has spent nearly all his days and nights in solitary confinement within the Hattieville Prison. In November of 2016 he was removed from one awful section of the prison and placed in an isolated area called Tango 10 where most of the international prisoners are kept. There he is completely segregated and nobody is allowed to speak to him.
Someone who is no longer inside the prison has reported that once he dared to speak to Danny Mason. This person was caught and forced to spend eighteen in solitary confinement as punishment. Mason has since been accorded a code name within the prison to ensure, as much as possible, little is known about how he is treated.
The writer of this article knows the code name but the writer if this article has never communicated, in any way, with Danny Mason.
When Britain’s Minister of Defence Peter Kilfoyle toured the Hattieville prison in 2000, he declared it to be the worst prison he had ever seen. Privately-run by the Kolbe Foundation since 2002, the penitentiary now widely known as Hattieville Ramada remains notorious. Approximately 30% of the approximately 1,200 inmates are languishing—many for three or four years—as “pre-trial detainees.”
It doesn’t take a forensic genius to deduce that if a prison is being privately-run as a business by an internationally-funded charity, the government can be absolved of direct responsibility for any punitive practices. And the longer prisoners have to stay incarcerated, the more revenue the prison generates from its subsidies.
This 150-acre prison facility on Burrell Boom Road is surrounded by a mile of fencing and guard towers. It is two miles from the Western Highway and there is no access by bus. According to the Kolbe Foundation, “Quite a few people do the two-mile walk and find it surprisingly enjoyable.”
The twenty-first century managers have placed a mural of Nelson Mandela on their outer wall, with an inspiring Mandela quotation: “No one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens but its lowest ones.”
The International Centre for Prison Studies ranks Belize has the world’s 11th-worst country in terms of its prisoner-to-public ratio. Despite its expanding tourist trade, Belize still ranks in the bottom half of the world’s countries in terms of nominal GDP per capita ($4,806 U.S.).
After eight months of continuous lobbying, Melissa was finally able to convince prison authorities to remove the manacles from her husband’s ankles.
Next: Souad Lindo entraps Melissa Ferguson
[Although I’m an American I have used British spellings throughout because the majority of readers will likely be in Belize where British grammar holds sway. – G.W.]