KIM SIMPLIS BARROW
In most murder mysteries, there is a surprise twist in the storytelling, an “a-hah!” moment that shifts the storyline. Sometimes this occurs with the introduction of a new character that viewers or readers could not have imagined would be relevant to the crime being alleged or investigated. Should The Case of the Severed Head was ever made into a movie, screenwriters would likely opt to make that new character be the Prime Minister’s wife…
Having completed medical service contracts in other Caribbean countries, Melissa Ferguson and Danny Mason met with Pablo Marin, Minister of Health, Peter Allen, Director of Health Services, as well as other health officials to introduce themselves and their company. The couple were welcomed and advised to visit various medical facilities in Belize to introduce themselves, their products and services.
Melissa and Danny had already presented proposals of their iCloud medical imaging technology to healthcare officials throughout Belize, prior to moving there. Their cost-effective technology was designed to enable the transfer of records and medical images instantly to a team of radiologists in the USA, decreasing diagnosis turnaround times. They consequently met with Dr. Adrian Coye, CEO of Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital [KHMH] and became acquainted with most of the private heathcare facilities in Belize. Responses were uniformly positive.
For their first successful contract in Belize, Melissa and Danny implemented a full suite of veterinarian equipment at the Stann Creek Animal Hospital. Danny designed and oversaw the construction of the X-ray diagnostic room, making sure international standards were met, and providing training to technicians. An argument could be made that it worked too well. The privately-run facility received some backlash for these improvements when it became known that their equipment was arguably superior to that of public Southern Regional Hospital in nearby Dangriga.
This successful contract, along with referrals from their clients throughout the Caribbean, led to an invitation for iCloud Inc. to respond to a bid request to implement a full suite of medical equipment for a new Neo-Natal Unit at KHMH, the country’s main hospital that was founded in 1995, in Belize City.
The funds to pay for this expansion were ostensibly to be supplied via the fundraising efforts of the Prime Minister’s wife, Kim Simplis Barrow, described in her Wikipedia entry as the First Lady of Belize and “the Special Envoy for Women and Children and founder of the Lifeline Foundation, one of Belize’s most acclaimed charitable initiatives.”
Her Wikipedia entry carries a warning from Wikipedia: This article contains content that is written like an advertisement.
Born in 1972 in Belize City, Kim Simplis Barrow grew up near Belmopan as the daughter of a policeman. She became the out-of-wedlock consort of the married lawyer and politician, Dean Barrow, at a young age. People in Belize were aware of Dean Barrow’s extra-marital activities and also that Barrow’s born-out-of-wedlock son, Shyne—who is not a son of Kim Simplis Barrow—was convicted of a felony in the U.S. courts.
[As a rapper, “Shyne” Barrow received a ten-year sentence in New York for serious firearms offences involving shots fired in a nightclub in 2000. This offence occurred in the company of his mentor, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs. In prison, Shyne reputedly observed the practices of Orthodox Judaism and officially changed his name to Moses Michael Levi Barrow in 2006. The rapper is now exiled from the United States (unable to return) and living his dream by languishing in Belizean swimming pools according to his own publicity materials. In 2018, as the Belize Music Ambassador, Moses Shyne Barrow formally applied to run for UDP in the Mesopotamia riding long held by Michael Finnegan. He is officially a member of the time that supports John Saldivar in his bid to replace Dean Barrow, Shyne’s father, as Prime Minister. Barrow had previously leaned towards supporting Patrick Faber as his replacement; now both men’s reputations are seriously compromised by accusations of corruption.]
After due diligence, and confirmations from the KHMH executive as to the appropriateness and viability of the equipment to be provided, Melissa Ferguson and Danny Mason were awarded the contract for the major Neo-Natal project.
They were consequently invited to the office of The Special Envoy for Children and Women on Coney Drive where a formal meeting was held, resulting in a signed agreement for the contract dated April 27, 2015.
This contract provided a breakdown and specifications for each piece of equipment to be acquired.
Ms. Barrow signed this contract and initialled each of the other 24 pages. [See APPENDIX for complete copy of the contract and signature of Kim Barrow on the final page.]
Melissa and Danny were asked to proceed with the acquisitions as soon as possible in order to meet the deadline for the opening of the neo-natal unit in September of 2016. Consequently, BMT committed to an order for the manufacture of the required equipment in concert with its parent company, iCloud Inc.
As well, emails were sent further outlining the parameters of the contract and re-confirming the selection of the winning bid in conjunction with the executive of KHMH and the Director of National Engineering and Maintenance for the Ministry of Health. There was more positive feedback confirming the appropriateness of the winning bid that had indisputably been sanctioned, overseen and ultimately signed by Kim Simplis Barrow.
Having worked with hospitals in other CARICOM countries, the couple had frequently observed equipment sitting idle due to lack of servicing. The cost to hospitals to have technicians brought to repair equipment was often prohibitive. Therefore, the bid from iCloud Inc. proposed having some additional ventilators. That way, in the event that a repair was required, replacements would be readily available.
This contract formally entered into by the Prime Minister’s wife for Belize was for $617,000 U.S.
Kim Simplis Barrow signed the contract after having received this message about the iCloud bid from Douglas Westby, the national director of Engineering and Maintenance for the Ministry of Health, on March 30, 2015:
“Mrs. Barrow: Please see attached quotation. I will follow up with 2 more around 1 pm. I haven’t been able to do an in-depth analysis of the equipment from a technical perspective but I think the total cost is substantially lower, all the equipment are [sic] brand new. It seems that this quote is about $600,000.00 BZD less than the one from DRE.”
When anticipated monies from the First Lady’s charity endeavours were not available, iCloud Inc. received an email on May 12, 2015 from the Special Envoy informing them that, in fact, it would be the Ministry of Health providing funding for the deposit. The initial deposit of $308,611.86 U.S. for the acquisition of the neo-natal equipment came from the Ministry of Health (not necessarily from funds that were raised as donations by the “Special Envoy” as had been foreseen in earlier communications.)
Upon a return trip to the Office of the Ministry of Health, Melissa and Danny were told they could not meet. The Minister apparently claimed not to know them.
[There is evidently a rampant disease of forgetfulness in Belize that enables government and police officials to simply declare minimal knowledge or no knowledge at all of people with whom they have clearly had extensive relations. Such pronouncements are often repeated by compliant media who never bother to easily disprove such absurd statements, or else are simply too frightened or inexperienced to do so. The number of people who barely knew Danny Mason in Belize is now incalculable.]
Danny was then informed that a major figure within the Health Ministry expected to receive an additional $100,000 U.S. as a kickback to approve the order. [Name withheld due to lack of paper trail.]
Danny Mason refused to comply. They had already been awarded the contract.
Three weeks after the Neo-Natal contract had been signed by both parties, a letter was sent by Kim Barrow, Special Envoy for Women and Children, dated May 18, 2015, attempting to cancel the ratified agreement.
The most logical explanation for this refusal to honour a signed contract is easily stated: no kickback = no contract.
The reason provided in the attempt-to-cancel letter from Ms. Barrow was limited to this one sentence:
“Regrettably, the donors have decided to go with a company that has a more established rapport with Belize’s hospital.”
Here is that letter attempting deny the legitimacy of the previously signed contract.
Ms. Barrow did not specify who these donors might be.
Significantly, Ms. Barrow signed her attempt-to-cancel letter as a government official, “Special Envoy for Women and Children, Spouse of the Prime Minister of Belize,” and not as a representative of a separate fundraising society, and yet her only reason give for her effort to invalidate the contract was ostensibly to represent the qualms of her donors.
The public perception that Ms. Barrow raised the majority of the funding for the Neo-Natal unit is not a phenomenon that Belizean media has thus far seen fit to investigate.
When Ms. Barrow attempted to cancel an existing contract, Melissa Ferguson visited an attorney in Florida and was told this was not a complicated matter, on legal grounds. Reparations for this broken contract, she was advised, if a suit were to be launched, would likely exceed $400,000 U.S.
After moving to Belmopan, Danny Mason had befriended former Cabinet Minister Salvador Fernandez, who worked within Health and Sports and who was a cousin of Kim Barrow. He showed Fernandez the signed agreement dated May 18, 2015, as well as evidence stating that the company was chosen based on the attractive package at the lowest cost for all-new equipment. Salvador Fernandez also heard the news from the Miami attorney that, given the signed agreement from Kim Simplis Barrow, a Breach of Contract settlement would likely be in the area of $400,000 U.S.
Salvador Fernandez begged Danny, “Please don’t sue them, it will look bad in the upcoming election.”
Fernandez promised he would try talking to his cousin.
No progress ensued.
Fernandez gave Melissa the direct phone number for his cousin.
The First Lady was not at all happy to hear from a representative of iCloud.
“I am just calling to touch base,” Melissa began, having resolved to be polite and civil.
Melissa told Kim Barrow that they both knew the contract had been validated. When the First Lady/Special Consul was advised that Melissa’s lawyer was of the opinion that this was not a complex case to argue, and when the amount of potential reparations was mentioned, Kim Barrow kept repeating, “No. No. No. No. No!”
A financial scandal of this scale, and a successful lawsuit against her husband’s UDP administration, could only be detrimental to her already shaky reputation as an unelected official who behaved as if she had been elected. At that time, before she was stricken with cancer, many citizens of Belize viewed the Spouse of the Prime Minister of Belize as an Imelda Marcos wannabe.
Ms. Barrow preferred not to discuss the matter. She hung up the phone.
The winning bid from DRE was initially cited as approximately $300,000 U.S. higher than the bid that Kim Barrow initially accepted and signed from iCloud for $617,223.73 U.S. Correspondence from Westby supports that supposition that the price subsequently paid by the people of Belize for the DRE bid to acquire refurbished Neo-Natal equipment for the people of Belize was much higher than the price that should have been paid to iCloud for the acquisition of all-new equipment. The term “refurbished” in ordinary parlance means used.
Melissa’s consultations with their Miami lawyer were not a secret. Danny Mason told numerous people that he was considering a lawsuit against the government of Belize. One of these people was Salvador Fernandez, the First Lady’s cousin. Another person he told about his plan to sue for reparations was then ubiquitous Jesus Castillo, who had the ear of the politically ambitious John Saldivar.
Although it remains unclear as to how exactly the Neo-Natal project was financed (ie. how much of the budget was actually paid for by funds ostensibly raised by The First Lady), a plaque at the hospital now recognizes Kim Barrow’s selfless dedication to the project.
In 2016, Kim Simplis Barrow would deny any association with either Danny Mason or Melissa Ferguson; and she would deny the company had ever been awarded the contract.
This was a fairly normal way for people in power within Belize to absolve themselves of any possible wronging: simply publicly declare that there were never any connections of consequence. In Belize, complicit media will give credence to such lies—and this process is considered fairly normal. It seems to occur on an almost weekly basis.
After Danny Mason’s arrest in 2016, Channel 5 obediently reported on a press release from the Special Envoy for Women and Children, Kim Simplis Barrow, denying that iCloud and locally registered Belize Medical Technology had ever been awarded a contract. [The full contract can be viewed in APPENDIX.]
The media also reported that Ms. Barrow was denying any association with Danny Mason and Melissa Ferguson.
Kim Simplis Barrow was yet another government representative afflicted with BFV, the Belize Forgetting Virus.
John Saldivar, too, came down with a very serious case of BFV, from which he has yet to recover. [Into 2020, Saldivar continued to forget people with whom he had had close monetary ties, broadcasting his forgetfulness of the American Lev Denmen with a media pronouncement when Denmen was on trial for fraud in the United States.]
For good measure, Kim Barrow’s husband went on public television in 2016 and assured Belizeans that Melissa Ferguson would be arrested. He did not need to say why this must be so, or how he knew this was an action that police must undertake, and Belizean media never saw fit to ask. After three successive election victories, Barrow had become a Banana Republican.
Truth in Belize can be a matter of opinion—and it is always the people at the top of the food chain whose opinions matter most. Belize is therefore a post-colonial society that has yet to outgrow and discard its deeply-rooted colonialism.
DEAN BARROW: THE RICHEST MAN
With a few noteworthy exceptions, most media employees in Belize have mostly held microphones in front of politicians and police representatives for a one-way conduit they called the news. This criticism can be laid in nearly all countries on the planet.
The problem is heightened in Belize because there has always been a clear and often virulently-defined divide between the UDP (United Democratic Party) and the PUP (People’s United Party). As a result, both sides have media outlets designed as much for propaganda purposes as objective reporting.
By far, the most enduring and outspoken voice for independent thinking in Belize belongs to the Love FM and Amandala newspaper founder Evan X. Hyde, a gifted writer, often employs a sly, raconteur style that would have impressed Mark Twain.
One only need read a few paragraphs of almost anything he has written before it becomes obvious that no other self-defined writer in the history of the country has ever known as much about Belize, or written as much about Belize. While Zee Edgell may be justifiably noted as the first, Belizean-born novelist, no other born-and-bred Belizean writer has had so many of his words consumed—and enjoyed—as Evan X. Hyde.
Here are Evan X. Hyde’s views of the Prime Minister under whose watch corruption and police intimidation has greatly flourished in the 21st century. Published in Hyde’s own newspaper on December 19, 2019, Hyde’s remarks are typically candid and recount the rise to dominance of the person now touted as the richest man if Belize according to rather tawdry website.
[The evidence-less website discounts Huang Maoru, a native of Shenzen, China, who purchased Belizean citizenship and has appeared in a Forbes list of the world’s richest billionaires, as well as Lord Michael Ashcroft, also not a permanent resident].
Seldom afraid to generate controversy, Hyde cannot resist reminding the populace that the straitlaced nation founder George Price—a lifelong bachelor who originally aspired to be a priest and only reluctantly sought political office at the behest of his employer—might be considered the country’s first Creole Prime Minister rather than Barrow.
Hyde has known Dean Barrow since childhood.
Dean Barrow, ably supported by Michael Finnegan, has been, overall, Belize’s most powerful Creole politician in the second half of the twentieth century and the first two decades of the twenty-first.
A highly intelligent man, Mr. Barrow knows how to choose his advisers, and when to accept their advice. Few will remember that it was Michael Finnegan who advised Barrow to choose Queen’s Square for his political constituency back in early 1984.
What had happened was that Mr. Barrow had defeated Hubert Elrington in a Collet constituency candidate convention for the Opposition United Democratic Party (UDP). At the time, Collet, which had been represented by the ruling People’s United Party’s (PUP) Harry Courtenay between 1969 and 1984, included most of what is now Lake Independence, Collet and Queen’s Square.
In early 1984, the total of electoral divisions in Belize was increased from eighteen (18) to twenty-eight (28), and Collet was split into three – Lake I, Collet, and Queen’s Square. Having defeated Hubert in the original Collet convention, Mr. Barrow was given first choice of the three new constituencies. The thing is, Michael Finnegan had been the campaign manager for the UDP’s Kenneth Tillett in both the 1974 and 1979 general elections, so that he knew Collet like the palm of his hand. He knew that Queen’s Square, where many public officer families were resident at the time, was the most UDP of the three new divisions. He therefore directed Dean Oliver to choose Queen’s Square.
Hubert Elrington was given Lake Independence, and the late Frank Lizama ended up with the new Collet. All three UDP candidates won, although Lake and the new Collet had been considered PUP areas at the time they were created. But there was a massive voter swing to the UDP in December of 1984 which brought Elrington and Lizama into the House.
In 1985 and 1986, Dean Barrow and I spent some time hanging out with each other, and we had enjoyable conversations, even though we had been bitter enemies (rivals?) through the middle and late 1970s.
When Mr. Barrow returned from law school at the University of the West Indies in 1974, I had been in the center of socio-political turbulence from early 1969. Barrow joined Uncle Dean Lindo’s law firm on Church Street, and although he was a deejay at Curl Thompson’s Amara Avenue disco playing conscious Bob Marley music, back then it soon became clear, at least to me, that Dean Oliver was no kind of revolutionary.
The most important, and surprising, thing I learned during my conversations with Dean Oliver [Barrow] in the middle 1980s was that he was not a fan of his uncle, and law firm boss, Dean Russell Lindo. Speculation in years afterwards was that Barrow and Rodwell Williams, another junior partner in the Lindo Church Street firm, were not being well paid, hence their bolting from Church Street to form their Barrow & Williams partnership after the UDP’s 1989 general election defeat.
The thinking in Opposition PUP power broker circles after the UDP victory in 1984, and I can refer specifically to Glenn Derek Godfrey, who used to live two houses down from me in Buttonwood Bay, was that Barrow was in the business of undermining Prime Minister Esquivel so that his uncle, Dean Russell, could reclaim his “rightful place” as UDP Leader. This was definitely not the case. Barrow told me that he held Esquivel in regard and was not impressed with his uncle’s overall performance.
Some people consider Mr. Barrow to be Belize’s first Creole Prime Minister, but Mr. Price, strictly speaking, was probably a Creole. No matter. It’s just a thought. The important thing to understand is that, in order to rise to political power, there are some very important non-Creole and anti-Creole forces which the Creole politician must satisfy that he is “safe,” in other words, that his decision making when he comes to power will not be dominated by Creole interests and concerns.
Dean Barrow committed to UDP electoral politics in mid-1983, then proceeded to top the polls in the December 1983 Belize City Council elections. At what point he was chosen as a personal project/favorite by the business magnate, Barry Bowen, I cannot say, but the late Sir Barry’s understanding with Dean Oliver meant that campaign financing was never, ever a Barrow problem.
[The municipal airport in Belize City is named after Barry Bowen. According to Wikipedia: Sir Barry Mansfield Bowen KCMG (September 19, 1945 – February 26, 2010) was a Belizean bottling magnate, politician and entrepreneur. His business interests included Bowen and Bowen, Ltd., which was founded by his father, and is the exclusive bottler of Coca-Cola products in Belize, as well as the Belize Brewing Company, which brews Belikin beer.]
Later in the 1980s, Mr. Barrow became close with the Santiago Castillo business empire, so he enjoyed the financial muscle support of the two most wealthy business groups in Belize at the time. (Though he entered Belize’s business world in 1985, Lord Michael Ashcroft did not really begin to flex his muscles until the early 1990s.)
[Born in Chichester, England in 1946, Michael Anthony P. Ashcroft, Baron Ashcroft, KCMG, PC is a British–Belizean businessman and politician. He is a former deputy chairman of the Conservative Party of Great Britain. Ashcroft founded Michael A. Ashcroft Associates in 1972 and he was ranked as the 95th richest person in the UK, according to the Sunday Times Rich List, in 2017, with an estimated fortune of £1.35 billion.]
Dean Barrow’s dad and my dad were contemporaries who grew up across the canal from each other between Regent Street West and Water Lane – Southside for real. But Dean, his dad’s first child, is four years younger than I, my dad’s oldest. We never had a childhood or young boy relationship befitting two friend’s oldest sons, and did not get to know each other a bit until he returned from law school in 1974. By that time, our differences in personalities and directions had begun to show.
Dean Barrow was not supposed to be in electoral politics as such, but he was an eligible bachelor trophy on social display for the UDP during the years (mid/late 1970s) when the UDP’s popularity in Belize City’s streets was awesome. Barrow was the star at the old capital’s most sensational night spot – Melting Pot.
Anyway, the years at Lindo’s law firm in the 1970s were like a political internship for Dean Oliver. He was learning from the best – Dean Russell and Michael Finnegan.
A man who pays meticulous attention to his attire and appearance, Barrow appealed to that class of Creole people who treasure those attributes. He is the undisputed master of television communication and politicking.
Even though the late 1970s were years of socio-political revolution around us in Nicaragua and Grenada, and across the ocean in Iran, there was never anything suggesting “boat rocking” where UDP philosophy was concerned. From my perspective, Dean Lindo’s UDP seemed like a Belizean version of America’s Republican Party.
Anyway, I’m going to close with a story which is classic Barrow, to my mind. All indications were that the building contractor, Sir Andie, would have been the Opposition UDP’s Belize City mayoral candidate in the 2006 municipal elections, at a time when the Social Security Board (SSB) and Development Finance Corporation (DFC) scandals, not to mention the G-7 Cabinet rebellion, all of which had occurred in 2004, had doomed the ruling PUP to future defeat.
I rate Sir Andie as one of the greatest Belizeans ever. I had seen the PUP itself push him aside as a candidate for the 1980 CitCo election, when the PUP was sure to win, and I was probably more angry about that than Sir was. He is a man of equanimity. His “mistake” had been sponsoring Pulu Lightburn’s basketball Happy Homebuilders, and defeating Sir Bowen’s Belikin Wheels. This is Belize, Jack.
How Sir ended up with the UDP, I don’t know the time line or the details. All I know is, I was sure he was going to be a great Mayor. He deserved the opportunity. But Dean Barrow, the Opposition UDP Leader, got a chance to have the glamorous Zenaida Moya be the UDP’s Belize City mayoral candidate, and Barrow will also choose glamour over anything else. I’m just saying. Once again, Sir was pushed aside.
In closing, it must be said that in politics, winning is everything. And Dean Barrow has been a winner, ever since 1983 CitCo. He’s never been defeated as an individual. The UDP has lost with him as one of their leaders, and with him as their Maximum Leader in 2003, but he himself has never been beaten individually. That is something no other Prime Minister of Belize can boast. Hence, Dean Oliver deserves large respect for his accomplishments.
If there was a rivalry between him and me, then history must surely vote the multimillionaire Barrow the winner, outright. The question for us Belizeans remains, nevertheless, what happened to the Creole people meanwhile all the Barrow successes were taking place. I don’t understand this. Call me stupid, if you will, but I just don’t get it.
Power to the people.
THE KIDNAPPING CONUNDRUM
The intimidation tactics used by GSU operatives to harass John McAfee were crude. As a result, a forthcoming Hollywood film will cast Belize in an extremely unsavoury light, alerting would-be retirees and a seemingly endless flow of less-than-pure investors and scammers to take their dirty money to less murderous climes.
Obviously, if “economic immigrants” started to understand the lay of the land in Belize, they would choose not to be roughed-up or financially fleeced and they would go elsewhere. But for at least two decades “political clientelism” has flourished as an unofficial industry in Belize. The remarkable number of UDP officials who flocked to the Princess Hotel when Danny Mason and Melissa Ferguson first arrived shows the extent to which cozying up to rich foreigners had become an indentured and accepted practice. Selling citizenship and favours was an overt way of life for government officials and there is simply no way that a three-time Prime Minister of such a tiny country could not have been known it had become normalized.
Danny Mason hailed from four Commonwealth countries: Guyana, Australia, Canada, Barbados. If Mason had outlived his usefulness to some of the UDP politicians he had supported, or if he was perceived to be a threat of any kind to someone in power, or both, police were going to have to devise a more sophisticated approach to eliminating him than employing mere terrorist tactics.
Killing him might draw far too much attention. A plan to emasculate and eliminate Mason would have to be carefully planned. If they could somehow put Danny Mason hopelessly in jail for the rest of his days, or, better still, send him to the gallows, that would be a much better way to go. Rotting away for the rest of his days in Hattieville Prison would nicely serve as the proverbial “fate worth than death.”
But how to go about it?
It would take a few months to introduce an expendable victim into the target’s orbit. Then someone who visited the Intelco Hill on a regular basis noticed or learned that Mason had installed an extensive system of surveillance cameras around his property. If a heinous crime was ostensibly committed by Mason, possibly there was a way to use his own cameras to gain a conviction. They could either stage an incriminating video or, better still, manipulate their target into revealing some proof that a felony had been committed.
For about a month, Llewellyn Lucas had been pestering Danny Mason to help him with some paperwork that could enable Lucas to make a bogus claim for an alleged work injury. Then, on July 15, 2016, Lucas and two pastors visited the police station in Belize City because Lucas was attempting to obtain a permit for a public demonstration to protest changes in Belize’s long-standing anti-sodomy laws. Lucas claimed he had been denied the right to speak on the radio to state his severe objections to any legislation that would legalize same-sex activity.
After their visit to the police station, Lucas and the pastors came to Mason’s house, ostensibly to discuss the paperwork for Lucas’ proposed work injury claim. One of those pastors has provided testimony to say they were “met” by Mason and some of his workers and eventually bundled into the back of Mason’s pick-up truck. Hard-to-decipher video footage shows four men beneath Danny’s house, coming up and down the stairs beneath the house for about fifteen minutes.
It is impossible to determine who exactly the individuals are in the video because the faces are not discernible due to the low quality of the images. Two others were made to get into the back of the pick-up, more or less on their own steam, treated in much the same way that Danny and four cohorts would be treated when they were being led in and out of vans, handcuffed, during their trial. There is no apparent struggle. Everyone moves calmly. For two seconds only, one of the ‘labourers’ appears to dart up the stairs, but this is an anomaly. Prosecutors alleged a large knife was briefly shown but that is conjecture. It is quite simply impossible to see that with any certainty.
It is the overall lack of intensity, the deliberate and almost mundane lack of drama or anxiety in the movements of those faceless figures, that generates the greatest impression. It is as if four men are casually unloading produce at the back of a grocery store. Ultimately, it is the large dog in the foreground—on the cement closest to the camera, never moving during this ten-minute loading procedure, sleeping the whole time—that steals this show. If this was the scene of a kidnapping, wouldn’t the dog nearby move at least a muscle? The dog sleeping throughout, and the lack of urgency in the body movements of the men, makes it difficult to believe there is any sort of crime in process.
Video footage for the trial was exclusively edited for the purposes of the prosecution. Footage from other perspectives—there was a camera at the gate, for instance, that recorded everyone coming and going from the property, as well a footage from upstairs—was simply excluded.
Obviously, it would be pertinent to know the extent of the considerable traffic going to and from Intelco Hill that day. There was considerably more traffic that day because the driveway reconstruction project was being completed. Hence, there would have been far more witnesses on the property than was customary. But surveillance tapes were taken by the police for the exclusive use of the prosecution.
We do know two of the alleged hostages were released unharmed. Statements made by Pastor David Dodd via a Skype video conference from Texas recall that after a journey of about thirty minutes, he and Alvin Wright were released, unharmed, somewhere on the George Price Highway, and given directions to proceed to the Democracia junction with their vehicle, which had obviously been driven by someone who had followed the pick-up.
David Dodd was not able to positively identify any of the defendants.
Dodd says there was no sign of Lucas at that time when he and Alvin Wright were released from the pick-up. If that eye-witness statement from Dodd can be assumed to be true—and Magistrate Moore took particular care to commend Dodd as a highly credible witness—this means Lucas must have been already removed from the pick-up (if he, too, had been taken from Intelco Hill against his will) somewhere before Dodd and his fellow pastor were released on the George Price Highway.
Defence council failed to assert that stops were made at the gate and near the Belmopan bus station.
Magistrate Moore herself would state, “Mr. Dodd was a careful [sic], not saying more than he was able to gather based on his visual, oratory and tactile observation and senses. He was also a believable witness. In fact, his testimony stood unchallenged. None of the defence counsel suggested that Mr. Dodd was not credible.”
It is therefore conceivable, if Dodd’s word is to be accepted as truth, that Lucas was dropped off somewhere along the way and therefore another party would have been far more likely to have undertaken the murder.
Remarkably, counsel for the defendants failed to apply this fairly simple logic during the trial.
Some legal experts have suggested that grounds for the admissibility of privately collected videos (for exclusive use on private property) can differ from the grounds of admissibility for surveillance videos in public places. Iliana Swift, who was appointed attorney for Terrance Fernandez, argued they should not be deemed admissible because nobody can be identified for certain in the video. No faces are visible, just body shapes.
There is no indication from the Skype video that David Dodd had been shown the surveillance tapes. The prosecution convinced the judge that identities could be determined by clothing and body shapes. The Amandala newspaper reported that the judge believed she could identify Keiron Fernandez although he claims he was in Belmopan at the time, paying bills, and his claim can be corroborated.
Not only were there major concerns as to whether or not the surveillance footage should be deemed admissible—and, thanks to the compliance of defence attorney Panton, it would be—but some glaring gaps would later be identified after the trial. Why doesn’t the video include footage to show who drove the pick-up truck under the house, for instance? Where is the upstairs footage of Mason and Lucas having their meeting?
Suspicions of tampering have yet to be fully investigated. Only after the trial was it possible to assert that more than half an hour of footage from the context of the most provocative footage was discarded.
If a reputable attorney can be found in Belize, the Court of Appeal will become a forum for addressing a variety of issues regarding the prosecution’s use of the surveillance video to serve as the primary evidence that Judge Moore relied upon to convict five men of a murder even though the location, time and weaponry for that murder remain a mystery and the video of suggestive silhouettes does not provide any proof that someone was murdered.
One the surface, the selection of Magistrate Antoinette Moore might have appeared promising for the defendants. She was a liberal progressive by Belizean standards.
Born in June 3, 1955 in Brooklyn, New York, she had attended Lawrence University, a liberal arts college in Appleton, Wisconsin, and Loyola University in Chicago, before graduating from J.D. Norman Manley Law School in Jamaica. She was admitted to the Belize Bar in 1996.
As a real estate attorney, she also engaged in civil rights issues in concert with her husband, Michael L. Flores, a businessman, journalist and former radio broadcaster. Moore was first appointed to serve as a temporary judge of the Supreme Court in 2014. Prior to her ascension to handle charges against the so-called Mason Five, Moore was highly regarded for her ground-breaking work to help Maya in 28 villages of the Toledo District assert their land claims.
Unfortunately, for Danny Mason and his co-accused, there was one major drawback to having Antoinette Moore as the lone Magistrate for their murder charges. Antoinette Moore was a long-time resident of Dangriga and Dangriga was the home of Llewellyn Lucas, the murder victim.
When he was alive, Lucas was not widely popular as Lucas. His support was embarrassingly paltry when he ran in his hometown for political office. But, deceased, as a victim of the entrepreneurial classes and the ruling elite in Belmopan, Lucas and his severed head—the sheer brutalism of his murder, whether he was shot to death first or not—became symbolic of post-colonial oppression.
Dangriga, for anyone who hasn’t been there—and Dangriga is definitely NOT a tourist destination—can be a very heavy and angry place. Creole and Garifuna resentment of outsiders is palpable. Danny Mason was not a “white” but he is certainly representative of the invasive, entrepreneurial class that most people who have opted to live in Dangriga actively detest.
Creoles were once the dominant voting block in Belize; and Dangriga is the heartland of the Garifuna people, a politicized adjunct to the Creoles. Estrangement from the dominant, business classes is hard-wired into the Garifuna DNA, for good reasons. The Garifuna Settlement Day has been re-enacted in Dangriga for many decades. This is the place to which the descendants of runaway slaves, who had intermarried with Amerindians, finally arrived at after several transplanted settlements further south along the Central American coastline.
The Garifuna were constantly living in fear of being wiped out by colonial military forces. Their best survival technique against the unmitigated brutalism of primarily Spanish militia was simply to keep escaping north. They eventually reached the site of Dangriga on November 1802, having most recently fled British militia in the Grenadines. An activist named Thomas Vincent Ramos created the local holiday known as Garifuna Settlement Day in 1941 and it was declared a national holiday in 1977.
Magistrate Moore was a progressive by Belizean standards but she and her husband lived in Dangriga, the heartland of angry against colonial power. She and her husband probably would not have been able to walk down the street in Dangriga without being spit on if she had not convicted Danny Mason, such is the degree of resentment felt by Dangrigans for post-colonial entrepreneurism. It is conceivable that a verdict of not guilty in this case would have made it next to impossible for Moore to remain living in Dangriga.
The entirety of Justice Antoinette Moore’s initial judgement is provided in the Appendix. It is slight, given the seriousness of the charges, but one must bear in mind that she was hampered by the lacklustre defence afforded by reticent, ill-informed or else inexperienced attorneys. That said, the paucity of commentary on crucial aspects of the case, such as the complex arrest procedure, leads one to assume the magistrate was attempting to comment as little as possible.
Here, for example, are her remarks, in total, about the bizarre arrest procedure, replete with its spelling and typographical errors.
“After 5 pm, the five accused arrived in the black Ford pickup at a bar in Belmopan. Thereafter, at about 8 pm when [sic] Cpl Holly Vasquez and other police arrived at the bar and attempted to search the pickup truck. Their efforts were thwarted by the five accused and most especially by the fifth accused. Later on that night, the fifth accused called Richard Smith and asked him to stop the police from searching his vehicle. Cpl Vasquez found the head of the deceased when he finally opened the back of the black pickup truck. He called for additional assistance, including the Scenes of Crime technician to process the vehicle and its contents.”
The police report about arresting “a East Indian descend person” had also avoided being precise. It cites the “DATE &N TIME OF INDICENT [sic]” as 15.7.16 at about 10:45 pm.
“Acting upon information received Cpl. #1088 H. Vasquez, along with Belmopan QRT comprising of Cpl Rayon Martinez, PC Guzman, PC Brooks, PC Castillo and PC Myvett visited Mr. Sancho’s Bar on Friday 16th January about 8:30 pm where Cpl Vasquez met a East Indian descend person [sic] who identified himself as William Mason and informed him that a search will be conducted on his person.
“Cpl. Vasquez then searched the male person and found a 9mm pistol with 5 live rounds of ammunition. He then ask [sic] the person to conduct a search on his vehicle and that’s when the male person started behaving in a strange manner and started putting excuses that he can’t locate his vehicle keys.”
Here the police report intentionally conceals the fact that police removed Danny Mason from the scene for approximately forty minutes when he was handcuffed and taken to Intelco Hill and back. It resumes:
“As a result Cpl. Vasquez opened the trunk of the vehicle and saw a black in colour bucket tied to the tail end near the rear door of a black in color Ford F150 bearing no L/P. upon [sic] inspection of the content of the bucket Cpl. Vasquez saw a crocus sac white in color. Cpl. Vasquez then opened the sack and saw what appears to be a human head freshly cut and being covered up with duck [sic] tape.”
A layman can only wonder how many lies and omissions are permitted in a police investigation before a mis-trial can be identified in Belize? For this case, it appears there was simply no limit.
An objective outsider with any critical capacity has to conclude that either the legal establishment of Belize was intimidated into fecklessness or else they were directly complicit in a top-down conspiracy.
A fastidious lawyer could spend weeks in court examining and exposing the myriad of police deceptions, lies and procedural failings that were permitted and sanctioned by the trial.
The withdrawal of services by Dickie Bradley remains a mystery in terms of his motive; the withdrawal of services by Herbert Panton two weeks later does not.
Subsequent attorneys for the five men accused were mostly hapless; a few even spoke afterwards affirming the verdict. Then again, within the current climate of corruption and terror in Belize, if fearful lawyers opt to be more loyal to their families than to their clients, who can blame them?
Just as errors, gaps, omissions and superficialities were legion in the police reportage, the magistrate’s summation also avoids details. It does not mention, for example, that prosecutors—lacking a motive, a body, a murder weapon, a crime scene or witnesses—were able to persuade the judge to consider that the black bucket in which the head was found was likely from the couple’s ranch. This was accomplished with the argument that a similar bucket could be found at the ranch. But such buckets are easily available all over the country. Any farm or ranch, particularly those with animals, would have such buckets. They are sold by the 100’s. One could be purchased at the Roaring Creek Westar Gas Station for $5. Nonetheless, Justice Moore was willing to accept the prosecution’s argument that the bucket in which the head was presented could have been from the couple’s farm, as if that qualified as proof. But if the black bucket was indeed from the Outback Ranch, where was the ice-making equipment that had to exist on that same ranch in order for the head to be kept on ice in the bucket?
Details are vital for justice. Magistrate Moore is selective when it comes to details. Her judgement fails to note, for instance, that one of the country’s foremost attorneys, Dickie Bradley, chose to discontinue as a defense attorney on the opening day of the trial, thereby placing the accused at an extreme disadvantage. Instead Justice Moore records a rambling roster without much attention to grammar: “for the Prosecution Mr Herbert Panton for the first, second, third, fourth and fifth accused and Ms Rachel Montejo-Juan for the fifth accused (both counsel withdrew after six days of trial) Ms Baja Shoman for the first accused Mr Norman Rodriguez for the second accused Mr Bryan Neal for the third accused Ms Iliana Swift for the fourth accused Mr Dexter Todd and Ms Michelle Trapp for the fifth accused.” [sic]
The eagerness of Justice Moore to negate complexity is somewhat astonishing. Without acknowledging any of the complex details surrounding the arrest [as outlined in ACT ONE], she prefers to summarize as simplistically as possible: “On a mid-July Friday evening in 2016 the police discovered the severed head of a man in a pickup truck parked outside of a bar.”
One could charitably support her brevity by arguing she was limiting herself to the skimpy and questionable evidence supplied by the police department and the prosecution. But she is knowingly disregarding facts. Justice Moore writes: “the five accused had arrived at the bar in the same pickup truck” without acknowledging others were in that vehicle. By doing so, she is covering for the police who used an alleged Tax Office robbery as their initial excuse to arrest only some of the men. The fact that police decided to arrest five men instead of seven, very quickly, is hugely relevant [see FIFTEEN REASONS] but Moore purposely sidesteps reality.
Justice Moore’s judgement is almost void of particulars. And so she writes: “The particulars of the indictment are: Ernest Castillo, Ashton Vanegas, Keiron Fernandez, Terrence Fernandez and William Mason, also known as “Danny Mason,” on the 15th day of July 2016, between Miles 30 and 31 on the George Price Highway, in the Belize District, in the Central District of the Supreme Court, murdered Llewellyn Lucas.”
Approximately three-and-a-half years after the arrests were made, the prosecution was still unable to provide substantiated proof, beyond conjecture, that a murder was committed at that location. The fact that one witness thought he heard the sounds of pigs when he thought Lucas was no longer in the vehicle is hardly a geographical validation for an indictment. But, according to Magistrate Moore, logic and proof can be subservient to feeling when a politically sensitive murder trial is conducted in Belize.
“In order to convict each accused of murder, the Crown is required to make me feel sure of five elements,” Magistrate Moore has written. The evolution of English common law, viewed by many to be of greater value to the human species than religion, has not been developed merely to empower the judge of a murder case to “feel sure” about a verdict in a murder case. Such a statement calls into question the maturation level of Belizean courts overall.
In short, in a mature and fair society, critical judgments based on legal precedents and the rational evaluation of all relevant facts should be the foundation for fairness—not emotional intuitions.
Few Belizeans are going to find Magistrate Moore’s statements bizarre because precious few Belizeans are ever going to read her judgement. [It has been reprinted in its entirety in the APPENDIX section]. She writes “the Crown is required to make me feel sure of five elements, viz, (1) that Llewellyn Lucas is dead, (2) that he died of harm, (3) that each of the accused, acting jointly with the other four accused, inflicted the harm or participated in the infliction of harm that resulted in the death of Llewellyn Lucas, (4) that when each of the five accused participated in the infliction of the harm on the deceased they each did so with the intention to kill him, and (5) that when each of the five accused participated in the infliction of the harm on the deceased they each did so without lawful justification.”
For rational interpreters of the English language, this overlong agglomeration of caveats would serve to exonerate the plaintiffs rather than convict them.
It does not take a law degree to rationally conclude that only one of the five precepts has been proved: (1) that Llewellyn Lucas is dead.
There is no proof that Llewellyn Lucas died of harm. There is no murder weapon. Nobody can prove that he did not die of a heart attack. There is no proof that he did not fall out of a speeding vehicle by accident, while trying to escape, or die from being struck by a lightning bolt.
There are no witnesses to a murder. Therefore, again, if one accepts that judgements within the realm of English common law must be made rationally, there can be no proof whatsoever that each of the accused acted jointly.
To make a point: The judge has no proof whatsoever if, imagining a murder is being jointly committed, that one of the five participants—or, theoretically, one of twenty assailants, because the number can only be imagined—did not excuse himself from the scene in order to relieve himself.
It is folly likewise to intuit whether or not all five participants in an imagined murder all intended to kill the victim. Again, at the expense of articulating the obvious, imagine five soldiers ordered to participate in a firing squad and one of them chooses to intentionally miss. Can a judge safely determine that all five executioners participated with equal intent to kill the victim?
Finally, it remains problematic that a judge would seek to place five men in jeopardy of capital punishment without proof of a murder weapon, a murder location or witnesses on the grounds that she felt obliged to exercise her “discretion.” It might have been well and good for Pontius Pilate to report to Rome that he had “exercised his discretion” for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ but English common law now requires rational explanations for legal actions, procedures and decisions.
“A Pastor is Butchered and Decapitated on a Sprawling Ranch.”
That declarative and entirely unsubstantiated headline appeared in Belizean media on July of 2016 only four days after the events described at Mr. Santo’s Bar. Three years later, ignoring logic and lack of evidence, in keeping with emotions and political expedience, the sensational headline was validated in a court of law.
Belize It Or Not.
A POSTSCRIPT: HEADS WILL ROLL
On November 3, 2019, John Saldivar officially launched his UDP leadership bid to replace Dean Barrow, supported by Barrow’s son, Shyne, a would-be UDP candidate. The latter would proceed to accuse Saldivar’s only rival for the post, Patrick Faber, of being a wife-beater. No proof was supplied with this accusation made via the internet. These libelous statements would remain unchallenged. There would be no rebuke for the Prime Minister’s son.
On December 3, 2019, all of the so-called Mason Five were found guilty of murder based on circumstantial evidence and DNA testing of blood on clothing. All five could therefore be sentenced to death if the judge determines the murder was Class A under the Criminal Code, a standard for “worst of the worst” that was established in the 2002 Privy Council case of Patrick Reyes, during which the death penalty was determined to be not mandatory for most cases.
After Melissa Ferguson and Danny Mason were required to pay exorbitant fees, an appeal is underway. Trouble is, adequate legal representation is hard to come by. Only a very brave lawyer in Belize would dare to stand tall and represent all the facts and rationales contained herein. Similarly, it would require an equally brave magistrate to respond to the varied grounds for acquittal.
In the current climate of fear and intimidation in Belize, it is simply not safe to have high standards.
In mid-January, Prime Minister Dean Barrow was pledging to be ruthless in a personal campaign to rid his UDP party of continuing allegations of corruption. He held a news conference to assert his resolve to be intolerant of any indiscretions from his ministers. Instead, Barrow proceeded to make life difficult for only one of his junior cabinets ministers while seemingly giving John Saldivar another free pass. Even the Belizean media was confident enough to report that Saldivar was obviously implicated in the Lev Derman case in the U.S. in which Dermen–as associate of Saldivar–was accused of masterminding a scheme that defrauded the Internal Revenue Service of the United States of more than five hundred million dollars in tax credits.
Barrow, if his own rhetoric was to believed, was clearly obliged to go after Saldivar and cut him loose —but what if John Saldivar, as the head of police and GSU, had some incriminating information about Barrow after his three successive terms in office? Or was it possible Barrow might be connected to the Danny Mason case and that Saldivar could prove it? An Amandala columnist who knew both men well summed uo Barrow’s cowardly reticence this way: “PM Barrow has stood by Saldivar, as if Saldivar has some strong obeah worked on him or a voodoo doll controlling what PM Barrow says and does in defence of Saldivar.”
In February, Dean Barrow hesitated and considered postponement of the UDP leadership convention altogether. Both candidates to replace him as leader of Belize had received large sums of money from Danny Mason–who was not guilty of any crime for becoming a 30% owner of the Belmopan Bandits or making a campaign donation of $250,000 BZ to Faber–and yet both candidates insisted on making public denials that this was not the case.
In January, from reading this site, it became public knowledge that Patrick Faber had received major support from Danny Mason. Approached by Channel 5 news on January 20, 2020, Patrick Faber told Channel 5 he had “very limited exposure to Mr. Mason.” In accordance with the political maxim that a big lie can be better than a small one, Faber proceeded to pronounce, “I was in no way connected with him. I have never received any campaign financing–any amount–from Mr. Mason.”
Wave FM provided this summary of Barrow’s efforts to mount a anti-corruption campaign:“The United Democratic Party is no stranger to allegations of corruption against its members. There has been the Penner scandal, the Danny Mason saga and now the Lev Dermen tango. What does this all mean for the UDP and their internal affairs including the upcoming leadership convention? As it relates to the Faber and Saldivar leadership race, Prime Minister says their heads would still roll if they are involved.”
An unfortunate turn of phrase.
But no heads rolled within UDP prior to the UDP leadership convention. Prime Minister Barrow’s avowals that he would not tolerate any corruption by his ministers were hollow when it came to the front-runners. Media was accorded limited access to the convention where Saldivar mimicked Faber by once more denying all allegations of having involvements in corruption aka “political clientelism,” a fancy term for the selling of favours.
The UDP convention selected John Saldivar to succeed Dean Barrow on February 9, 2019.
The very next day Amandala published this update on the fraud trial of the aforementioned American businessman Lev Dermen:
“A report from Channel 5 News on the fraud trial in Salt Lake City, Utah, says that Lev Dermen gave Minister of National Security, John Saldivar, stacks of cash, according to testimony in court this morning from Jacob Kingston. The cash was in stacks of $10,000 US and this was done during a trip that Kingston and Dermen made to Belize in 2012. According to Kingston, Saldivar used his ministry’s boat to take them on a trip to southern Belize. A picture of Denmen beside two Belize military men was shown in court.”
During the next day of the Utah trial, Kingston’s text messages provided even more conclusive evidence that Saldivar had gained payments from Dermen. In return, the American was to receive Belizean citizenship as well as Belizean ambassadorial status. Amandala reported:
“Saldivar told Kingston that he was worried because he had not heard from Dermen, who had promised him US$25,000 per month to assist him and four unnamed colleagues in their re-election campaign. Saldivar then asked Kingston for the money, according to the text messages that the two exchanged. Kingston suggested that he could wire the money to him, but Saldivar did not want to receive the money through that route. So when Kingston suggested to him that he could come and pick it up in Miami, Saldivar agreed and replied that he would head for Miami on Thursday, February 12, 2014. Saldivar traveled to Miami and allegedly picked up US$50,000 from a business associate of Dermen.”
After 72 hours as UDP leader, John Saldivar was forced to resign on February 13, 2019. The resignation of Saldivar was forced upon him during an emergency cabinet meeting. Saldivar might have legally challenged Barrow’s authority to force his resignation because Saldivar had already succeeded Barrow as leader of the party–but legal actions had never been his forte. The American shyster Lev Dermen was found guilty on all counts–but by mid-March John Saldivar was back into the race for the UDP leadership.
Given that Prime Minister Barrow had sternly vowed to be intolerant of all corruption within his cabinet, what possible reason could there be for Barrow to overlook the bribes paid by Dermen to his most blatantly corrupt and out-of-control minister? The public was led to surmise that surely John Saldivar–the J. Edgar Hoover of Belize, as head of police–must have an ace up his sleeve, possibly some knowledge of the Prime Minister that Barrow wants to remain a secret.
This Cadle Times site first appeared one month prior to John Saldivar’s forced resignation.
The circus of corruption continues.
- Giles Winterbourne