A 42-year-old Venezuelan man, who admitted to making close to $200,000 in less than a month by credit card fraud, has been sentenced to six years in prison.
Jorge Julio received the sentence for being in possession of the cash, knowing it was the proceeds of fraud, when he reappeared before Magistrate Marissa Gomez in the Port-of-Spain Magistrates’ Court, yesterday afternoon.
Julio also received two sentences of three years in prison for two sets of fraudulent credit cards that were allegedly recovered in his apartment when he was arrested on Carnival Sunday.
However, Julio will only have to serve the largest sentence as Gomez ordered that all three be served concurrently.
Julio was initially charged alongside his fellow countryman Miguel Eleazar Briceno for the crimes and both men had pleaded guilty when they first appeared in court on March 11.
However, even before Briceno heard the possible sentence he was facing during Julio’s hearing, he opted to change his plea to not guilty. His decision meant that his case will now have to go on trial before Gomez.
Presenting a mitigation plea on Julio’s behalf, attorney Steven Mawer asked for leniency as he claimed that financial and political turmoil in Venezuela forced his client to leave the country to provide for his wife and children.
His claim was challenged by Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Tricia Hudlin-Cooper who pointed out that Julio admitted to purchasing the cards in Venezuela when he was first interviewed by police. She also noted that Julio claimed to have planned to carry out the fraud during Carnival celebrations to avoid detection.
“It was premeditated and a very systematic attack on our financial institutions,” Hudlin-Cooper said.
She suggested that the fraud would have required planning as Julio managed to gather a large quantity of cash despite daily withdrawal limits at ATMs.
In passing the sentence, Gomez said that while she was well aware of the ongoing situation in Venezuela, she noted that such was not a valid defence to criminality.
“There are many such persons in Venezuela. I know of a judge who is begging, and cutting grass and coconuts to earn money. There are many legitimate ways to earn money,” Gomez said.
The men were arrested on Carnival Sunday following an operation by detectives of the Financial Intelligence Unit. The unit alleged set up surveillance at First Citizens Bank (FCB) branch at One Woodbrook Place after receiving reports of suspicious transactions from the bank’s security personnel.
The officers reportedly observed the men at the location and then followed them to an apartment building at Sydenham Avenue, St Ann’s. They obtained a search warrant and then raided the property.
During the search, the officers found the cash and one set of blank credit cards hidden in a covered baking dish in a cupboard. The second batch of cards was found in a bin when investigators returned to the property after interviewing Julio.
Gomez was expected to consider bail for Briceno during yesterday’s hearing but had to adjourn the issue as a family friend from Richplain, Diego Martin, who volunteered to serve as his surety had not presented himself to police to be vetted in time for the hearing. Briceno will reappear in court on May 13.
- by Derek Achong