Justice Lisa Ramsumair-Hinds.
A mother of two who pleaded guilty to five counts of forgery has been put on a bond and ordered to repay $46,000 in compensation.
However, the judge sentencing Amanda Chattergoon warned that the non-custodial sentence was not to be viewed as a slap on the wrist and potential fraudsters must not feel emboldened to commit similar acts in hopes of being able to make restitution quickly by pleading guilty.
Sending the warning was Justice Lisa Ramsumair-Hinds, who on Monday accepted the plea deal between Chattergoon and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions in July for a 2006 offence.
Chattergoon, 35, was before the judge on a five-count indictment for tendering two forged cheques and a fake driver’s permit on August 15 and 16, 2006.
She presented the cheques to the owner of an electronic appliances store in San Juan for three television sets and a refrigerator on the first day and four television sets and a refrigerator on the second day before she was arrested by Fraud Squad officers.
After she presented the forged cheque on the first occasion, the owner of the store delivered the items to her at the Port of Spain port, as she told him she wanted to ship the items to Tobago.
Since he could not, at the time, provide her with a receipt, since his business had only just opened, he asked a tenant to issue the receipt in his company’s name, deposit the cheque and reimburse him the $46,000.
Prosecutor Ravita Persad-Maharaj said the store owner’s tenant told him the cheque was bad.
The next day, Chattergoon said she wanted four more television sets and a refrigerator and would pay with a cheque for $46,000 again and would pay the remaining $7,000 in cash.
When she went to the store, she was arrested.
She admitted it was a “job she got” and that her name was not Terri John as it appeared on the permit.
Chattergoon also said a man gave her “a work” and she needed the money. She said she had answered a job advertisement for $3,000 and a man gave her the cheques and the permit, which she knew were fake. Chattergoon told police after she presented the first cheque, she asked the man who hired her for payment, and he told her he had one more job for her.
The second bogus Republic Bank cheque was reportedly issued by a branch which does not exist, in Carenage, and the judge said that alone should have raised red flags.
At the time, Chattergoon had an almost two-year-old toddler and was pregnant with her second daughter.
Ramsumair-Hinds admitted to being somewhat disquieted by the proposed sentence agreed to by the State and defence, but said she would not depart from it as she weighed the benefits of the plea-bargaining process to the administration of justice and the public’s interest.
She told Chattergoon, who has since studied accountancy but is unable to find work because of the offences, that she was fortunate, since the maximum penalty for the charges she faced carried jail terms of 14 years for the forged cheques and seven for the fake permit.
Ramsumair-Hinds said such offences undermined the “integrity of the financial system” and harmed legitimate businesses, particularly small ones which stood to lose the most.
She said forgery should not be a “necessary overhead” for businesses.
“White-collar crimes touch all of us…they are not victimless crimes.”
Chattergoon was put on a $50,000 bond to keep the peace for three years or do two years’ hard labour if she breaches it. She was also ordered to pay $23,000 forthwith and the rest in monthly instalments of $3,000, with a final payment of $2,000 to make up the $46,000. If she fails to pay, she will return to court for further sentencing.
Chattergoon was represented by attorney Thalia Francis-Brooks.