Defendants want to go their own ways in police union case
Published: July 7, 2014
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ST. CROIX - Attorneys representing two of three people in a case where two police officers and a civilian woman are charged with embezzling more than $17,000 from a police supervisors union's bank account have filed motions with the court asking that their cases be separated.
Sgt. Lesley Hatchett, 48, of Work and Rest; Sgt. Freddie Ortiz, 43, of Constitution Hill; and Hatchett's daughter, Elisa Carmona, 26, of Estate Sion Farm were all charged in March and face charges of conspiracy to commit embezzlement, which carries a penalty of five years imprisonment and up to a $1,000 fine, and obtaining money under false pretense, which carries up to 10 years in prison.
Ortiz and Hatchett additionally face a charge each of embezzlement by fiduciary, which carries a penalty of 10 years in prison. Hatchett alone faces a charge of forgery and faces 10 more years in prison if convicted.
On Thursday, attorneys for Carmona and Ortiz argued motions in which they asked the court to sever their cases from Hattchette's primarily because they believe discovery evidence in the case based on Hatchette's actions could be prejudicial to them.
Shortly after the union representatives began questioning the missing funds, Hatchette reportedly sent a text message to one of the officials, where she essentially admitted to stealing the money, apologized for doing so and offered to pay the money back. Attorneys argued that they believe that the prosecution will be using that evidence in the trial and if they do, it could work unfairly to convict their clients of the conspiracy charges.
Attorneys also pointed out that having the cases tried together deprives their clients of their right to confront all evidence in the case. They argued that if Hatchette is a co-defendant in the case, there would be no way to cross examine her on the contents of the text message.
Assistant Attorney General Denise George Counts said she believed the text sent by Hatchette is primarily only incriminating to her and that the evidence does not rise to the level that would allow the severance on grounds of prejudice. Counts said the fact that Carmona cashed some of the checks makes her a fiduciary and Hatchette's admittance in the texts do not necessarily pull her in as a conspirator. She said while the text message may be damaging to the case of all of the defendants, it is not unfairly prejudicial.
All of the defendants also joined in a motion to dismiss the conspiracy charge, saying that the charging document does not specifically list any specific actions or illegal conduct carried out by the defendants and that it merely recites the verbiage from the local law that they are accused of violating.
According to the affidavit filed by James McCall, director of Special Investigations for the V.I. Justice Department, Hatchett and Ortiz both served in leadership positions in the union.
He said in March 2012, Police Detective Anthony Hector, who was newly elected to head the union, learned from FirstBank that the union's balance was just less than $6,000. According to the affidavit, there should have been at least a $19,000 balance.
Union officials filed a report with the police department and later contacted Sgt. Mark Corniero, a special investigator, asking him to launch a criminal investigation into the missing funds, McCall wrote.
McCall stated that Hatchett wrote 16 unauthorized checks between Feb. 6, 2009, and March 12, 2012, in amounts ranging from $275 to as much as $2,200, for a total of $17,124.
Ortiz became involved in the case when she wrote a check from the union account for just more than $1,300 for a trip they both took to Las Vegas in April 2012, according to McCall.
According to the affidavit, when Ortiz was contacted, he stated that Hatchett was responsible for purchasing the airplane tickets, and he had paid for the 10-day hotel stay but he was not aware that she was using Law Enforcement Supervisors Union funds to pay for the tickets.
McCall wrote that further investigation revealed that during Ortiz's tenure as union president, between April 2010 to April 2012, he strategically blocked the elected treasurer Cecil Gumbs from being a signatory on the account, having knowledge of the account balance or from receiving any of the account statements, which goes against the union bylaws stipulating that the treasurer should handle all financial transactions.
- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.