By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
FORMER Renew Bahamas CEO Michael Cox and his uncle Maurice were collectively fined $6,000 yesterday for working at a local scrapyard without valid work permits late last year. Senior Magistrate Carolyn Vogt-Evans fined both United Kingdom natives $3,000 after convicting them for illegally engaging in gainful employment in October 2018.
The Tribune understands their fines were paid in full yesterday. They faced a year in prison if they defaulted.
The Newcastle natives were further ordered by the senior magistrate to be turned over to the Department of Immigration for deportation upon paying their respective fines.
One of the pair’s attorneys, Alex Morley, indicated that Michael Cox has two children with his wife, who is a professor at the University of The Bahamas. However, the senior magistrate said that fact should have put both men “in a posture of greater care to abide by The Bahamas’ immigration laws”.
“No one is above the law,” she added. “Not this court, and certainly not any person visiting these here Commonwealth of The Bahamas.”
The sentences came despite the pair’s insistence that they were not working as previously claimed when immigration officers arrested them on October 5, 2018.
Immigration Officer Corey Bonaby testified that on the date in question he received instructions from one of his superiors, Peter Joseph, to investigate a matter in the area of Summerset Estates. He said he had received a complaint that two Caucasian males, thought to be foreigners, were working at a heavy equipment site.
Officer Bonaby said he was instructed to lead a small team of officers to the area, Sanasha’s Development and Heavy Equipment. When the bus he and the other officers were in pulled up to the rear, he observed Michael Cox sitting on a forklift. He said the officers got out of the bus and splintered into different groups, with himself and three other officers approaching the man on the forklift.
By the time they got to the man, he was already off the forklift. According to Officer Bonaby, Michael Cox was wearing “highly worn-down” steel-toe boots, rugged jeans and a buttoned-down shirt.
Officer Bonaby said he questioned the man about his immigration status, to which he answered by identifying himself as Michael Cox and stating that he was a visitor, and that he had a work permit, but it had expired. Officer Bonaby said when he asked the man to provide proof that he was a visitor, he could not.
Officer Bonaby said Michael Cox told him that he wasn’t working, and was only at the location in question to visit a friend, Ronald Miller, who owned the property. However, he said Mr Miller wasn’t in the area at the time.
Officer Bonaby said that, based on what Michael Cox was wearing at the time, he was cautioned and told that he was suspected of engaging in gainful employment and placed under arrest.
After that, two other officers took Michael Cox to the front of the yard while he searched for other people in the area. After finding no one, Officer Bonaby said he then made his way to the front of the area, where he observed Maurice Cox, donned in dirty blue overalls and rugged boots, who was already under arrest.
Officer Bonaby said he subsequently questioned Maurice Cox on what he was doing, to which the 51-year-old responded by saying he was working and teaching other persons in the area how to load scrap metals onto containers for export, and that he was assisting his nephew in loading them.
Fellow immigration officer Kyle Edwards subsequently testified that while Officer Bonaby was dealing with Michael Cox, he went to the front of a building on the Summerset Estates site, where he saw Maurice Cox standing behind a metal container wiping his hands. Officer Edwards said Maurice Cox was dressed as if he were involved in “industrial” activity of some sort, clad in dirty jeans, boots, gloves and a construction jacket.
Officer Edwards said he approached Maurice Cox and asked him if he had any legal status to be in the country. The officer said the man said he did have legal status, and went to his jeep to retrieve a foreign driver’s licence which he showed the officer. Officer Edwards said he then asked Maurice Cox if that was all the proof he had, to which the man replied by saying he had no other proof of status.
After that, he said he turned Maurice Cox over to Officer Bonaby.
Officer Bonaby said before the pair was put on the bus, he took pictures of them with his cellphone, which he later had printed for possible evidence.
He said the pair was ultimately transported to the Carmichael Road Detention Centre where they were further questioned and processed. Checks were made of the Department of Immigration’s Permit Issuance System, which revealed that Michael Cox’s work permit to function as CEO of Renew Bahamas was granted in July 2016 and expired in July 2017. The system showed that he applied for a renewal but a decision had not yet been made by the DOI’s board.
Maurice Cox, meanwhile, entered the country as a visitor for 90 days, and had no application pending.
However, Officer Bonaby admitted during cross-examination that he couldn’t say whether or not the forklift in question was actually in operation when he first spotted Michael Cox, much less if it was actually on, and could only say that it wasn’t running by the time he approached him.
Additionally, notwithstanding the allegations that both men were engaged in gainful occupation without leave of an immigration officer, Officer Bonaby admitted that he did not arrest the man allegedly responsible for hiring them, Sanasha’s owner Ronald Miller, despite his evidence placing Mr Miller in and/or near the worksite the day both Michael and Maurice Cox were arrested.
Both the accused took the witness stand in their defence, and both denied doing any work for which they would be paid. Michael Cox said he was not working on the premises, and was only there to speak to Mr Miller, whom he knew for years as they had both previously worked at Renew Bahamas. During cross-examination by Immigration Officer Avia Beckford, Michael Cox said he went to the scrapyard to pick up his uncle Maurice.
Meanwhile, Maurice Cox, a construction operations manager by profession, said Mr Miller was not paying him because he was just helping the other man out due to their mutual interest in heavy machinery.
Lead defence attorney Wayne Munroe, QC, submitted in closing that the Crown had to prove that his clients worked for Mr Miller and that they profited and/or gained for doing so. However, Ms Beckford submitted that the Crown didn’t need to show monetary profits, and asserted that based on the circumstances it could be assumed that the two men profited either directly or indirectly.
However, Magistrate Vogt-Evans said “when one looks at what they were doing”, subject to certain portions of the Immigration Act, their “participation in the trade directly or indirectly for reward, profit or gain can be inferred”.
“In this case the defendants were on a heavy equipment site where there was loading of steel on a container for export,” she concluded. “They were both dressed in clothing worn on such sites. (Maurice Cox) stated he was instructing; (Michael Cox) was on a tractor when spotted. It is therefore reasonable to infer a negative conclusion.”
In sentencing the pair, Magistrate Vogt-Evans said: “The court notes that there is a continuous challenge with immigration issues in our country. The court must send a clear message to all, no matter who they are, that the Bahamas has rules, regulations and laws like every other country, and they must be respected by those who we invite in.”
Myles Laroda, Christina Galanos and Valencia Hunter also represented the two men.