Judge slams ‘greed, gullibility’ as Princes Town woman agrees to repay $1.2m to neighbour allegedly duped

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Justice Frank Seepersad –

A HIGH COURT judge minced no words in registering his disquiet at a “loan arrangement” between a Princes Town housewife who was allegedly duped into lending her neighbour over $1.3 million over almost two years, with a promise she would get back “big interest.”

On Thursday, the neighbour who received the money agreed to a settlement to repay $1.2 million, with $15,000 to be paid immediately.

From July 1-November 1, the neighbour will pay $15,000 instalments and in December repay $1.1 million.

However, the civil claim for restitution was expected to go to trial on Thursday.

Instead, after Justice Frank Seepersad refused a third adjournment of the trial because the defendant was ill, he allowed her attorneys to speak to her client so the matter could proceed.

Shortly after, the judge was told the parties were in discussions on a settlement in which it was agreed the defendant will repay $1.2 million to her neighbour.

In signing off on the consent agreement, Seepersad made it clear his court will not entertain claims based on unconscionable terms. He said the case raised alarm and the pleaded facts demonstrated a level of greed and gullibility.

“There is a saying if it is too good to be true, it is too good to be true. Common sense must prevail at some time. Compassion should never be allowed to overcome common sense. This ought not to have happened if common sense was exercised,” the judge said.

He also noted aspects of the “loan agreement” between the two neighbours, saying “in no reasonable society can you expect to lend $30,000 and get back $250,000.”

Seepersad said currently when there are economic constraints, the likelihood of exploitation of people with financial means was great.

He said with fraud on the increase, “stupidity and gullibility” will be exploited, leading to the legal system being inundated with similar claims for restitution.

Seepersad said the claimant in the case – a housewife who took the money from her daughters’ savings accounts, initially without their consent – was fortunate the defendant has agreed to settle by paying back a substantial portion of what was loaned.

“Hopefully there will be compliance.”

He was harsh in his criticism of what she did, saying the reckless use of her daughters’ money demonstrated a “level of greed and gullibility.”

He also said the defendant was lucky no criminal fraud proceedings had yet been engaged, although, in the pleadings, the housewife said the matter was reported to the Fraud Squad, though her neighbour said the police ar yet to contact her.

In the lawsuit, the Princes Town housewife said the neighbour first came to her in March 2017, asking for money to pay taxes to access a US$20 million medical negligence court award from the US for her husband’s death.

She said one of her daughters did not want her to lend the money, but the neighbour threatened on numerous occasions to take poison and even hurl herself in front of a truck to end her financial worries.

The neighbour also provided documentation from a US bank and two local banks to prove she had access to the multi-million-dollar court settlement. These turned out to be fake after the family’s attorneys began making enquiries of the banks.

The neighbour also claimed to have won a $28.1 million NLCB Lotto jackpot in 2018 and asked for funds to pay the taxes to receive the windfall, which would be made out to the housewife, since the neighbour claimed she once worked for the NLCB and could not access the jackpot winnings.

In all, from March 2017-December 2018, the housewife loaned her neighbour in excess of $1.3 million and was promised repayment and interest of $2 million, which she said she saw as an opportunity to put the money back in her children’s accounts without their knowing and allow them to live a comfortable life,

At one point, the housewife said she was also “shocked, surprised and grateful” for her neighbour’s generosity.

Eventually, when promises of repayment continued to be made and her family began their investigations, the housewife said they found out the money was being used to upgrade an apartment building.

In her defence, the neighbour denied the claims. Instead, she claimed the proceedings were filed to extort money from her. Other than receiving US$700 and $75,000, from which $35,000 was returned, the neighbour said there was never any agreement to borrow any money.

She admitted she had been successful in a medical negligence case in the US, but said she never said the court award was to the tune of millions nor did she know about a Lotto win. She also accused her neighbour of coming to her home and taking personal documents, including banking records, without returning them.

If she fails to pay the instalments by December, the entire balance will be due, Seepersad said.