(Jamaica Observer) Well known real estate attorney Jennifer Messado, who was recently arrested following allegations that she tried to sell properties owned by a church without the owner’s consent, is currently under investigation in relation to seven or eight other real estate transactions.
Clerk of court Hansurd Lawson made the revelation in the Kingston and St Andrew Parish Court yesterday when the 68-year-old counselor and 72-year-old co-accused Beverley Barrakat, a real estate broker, appeared on fraud charges and were granted bail in the sums of $800,000 and $50,000, respectively.
Assistant Commissioner of Police and head of the Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime Branch Fitz Bailey, who was present in court yesterday, was however unable to provide details about the other allegations.
Messado is charged with two counts of forgery, two counts of uttering forged documents, conspiracy to defraud, causing money to be paid out by forged documents and money laundering, while Barrakat is charged with conspiracy to defraud.
Investigators allege that on December 20, 2017, Messado prepared an agreement of sale for two parcels of land without the knowledge and consent of the owner.
Messado reportedly forged the signature of the trustee, along with the property owner’s stamp and letterhead, to facilitate the fraudulent transaction and collected US$270,000 as downpayment from the prospective purchaser.
The clerk of court, in providing further details yesterday, said that one of the two signatures on the sales agreement was for a member of the church but he said that both individuals have denied signing the agreement.
Lawson said they reported having gone to the lawyer to enquire about the market value of the property but maintained that they did not sign any documents.
“They were surprised when they learnt that the premises were being sold by their directions,” he added.
Further, Lawson told the court that the sales agreements, which indicated that the properties were being sold for $232 million, were prepared before the witnesses had visited the attorney.
He also told the court that Messado has returned US$190,000 to the purchaser and plans to return the balance.
Lawson told Parish Judge Maxine Ellis that the prosecution was vigorously opposed to Messado being granted bail, as the investigators were of the view that she may interfere with the ongoing investigations and were concerned that she may flee the country.
But her lawyer, Christopher Townsend, told the court that his client has no intention of absconding, as she is aware that she is under investigation and needs to stay in the jurisdiction. He also pointed out that his client was previously charged and attended court at all times and that the court eventually ruled in her favour.
Townsend also dismissed the argument that if granted bail his client would interfere with witnesses, stating that she had cooperated with the officer during the investigation.
But Lawson told the judge that Messado was not fully cooperative, as the investigators had received information that she ‘cleaned out’ her office and that they had to go to the house of one of her employees to retrieve the documents.
Townsend however argued that there was nothing wrong with a paralegal taking home files, but promised that his client will allow the police to access the relevant documents in the named cases being investigated.
Further, Townsend presented a medical document to the judge, asking for Messado to be granted bail on humanitarian grounds. The ailment was not disclosed.
As it relates to Barrakat, Lawson said that the prosecution has documents to show that she contacted the purchaser about the sale of the properties and that she did not carry out her due diligence before the property was put up for sale.
However, her lawyer, Pierre Rogers, told the court that his client had no knowledge that there was anything untoward in the transaction and was simply following instructions. He also said that his client has invited the police to collect a statement.
“There is no blight on her record; she has never darkened the door of a police station or courtroom before this,” he said. “It is unfortunate that at this late stage of her life she has found herself in this position.”
“Her hands are clean,” Rogers added.
Judge Ellis, after listening to both defence lawyers as well as the prosecution, said despite the concerns of the prosecution regarding its opposition to bail for Messado, the matter is one in which individuals are ordinarily granted bail. Furthermore, she said, there are conditions that can be imposed to allay those concerns.
Hence, Messado was granted bail on condition that she reports to Constant Spring Police Station daily, and surrenders her travel documents with a stop order in place. She was also given a curfew order which prevents her leaving home before 6:00 am or after 6:00 pm.
In respect to Bakarrat, the only condition was for her to get one surety. The judge, after announcing that the bail amount was $50,000, quickly explained that the amount was arrived at because she did not hear any arguments that Barrakat had actively participated in the alleged fraud.
Judge Ellis said that a breach of due diligence does not justify criminal sanction.
Both women are to return to court on July 3.