Darryl Heeralal and Darren Bahaw
Wednesday, November 30th 2005
MILLIONAIRE businessmen Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson have been indicted by a United States grand jury to face fraud charges in that country over the now infamous Piarco Airport project.
One senior government official said last night that the move by the US authorities was the first of its kind in the English-speaking Caribbean and it has spurred several other enquries into banking practices.
The indictment returned two weeks ago was unsealed yesterday by US authorities and named eight people and two companies including Galbaransingh, Ferguson, nationals from Aruba, Colombia, US businessmen Raul J Gutierrez and Eduardo Hillman-Waller.
Charges include wire fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud, transfer of stolen funds, money laundering and conspiracy to launder money.
The Express understands that one of the two locals named in the grand jury indictment is in negotiations with the US State Department to surrender.
Failing the negotiations, the Express was told, the US has the option of asking the Trinidad and Tobago Government to have both men extradited to face charges.
Galbaransingh, Ferguson, Gutierrez and Hillman-Waller are already facing several court charges here in connection with the airport project.
The charges in the US stems from an alleged scheme to inflate bids for the airport project, according to the indictment.
The indictment alleges that the Gutierrez owned Calmaquip Engineering Corp, a Miami-based firm, and co-owner of Birk Hillman Consultants Inc, Hillman-Waller and others conspired to fraudulently win contracts for works on the TT$1.6 billion airport project by arranging for shadow companies to submit falsely inflated bids so that their own bids, also inflated, but not as much, would be accepted.
One such bid by Calmaquip for airport specialty equipment such as jetways, elevators, escalators, security systems and a public address system was US$15 million above the estimated cost of the project, according to the indictment.
The other company named was Northern Construction Limited in which Galbaransingh is chairman.
Birk Hillman is now a defunct company which had offices in Miami and Orlando.
The indictment also charges that a series of complex financial transactions were used to hide the origin of fraudulently obtained money paid to Calmaquip by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago.
US investigators allegedly made the discoveries during a counter-narcotics investigation involving a Colombian drug cartel headed by the Dillevgas family.
There has since been a supervening indictment dealing with the charges arising out of the drug investigation, the Express was told.
Gutierrez, Hillman-Waller and Armando Paz, Calmaquip's treasurer, appeared before a federal magistrate in Florida after their arrests yesterday.
Gutierrez and Hillman-Waller were released on US$1 million bail each while Paz was released on US$100,000 bail.
A court date for the three to enter their pleas has been set for December 19.
The US case was investigated mainly by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Miami.
The special agent in charge, Jesus Torres, told US media that the defendants would face "the full weight of the law" and he added that the "ICE agents are working tirelessly to identify these fraudsters who think they can circumvent our nation's laws".
Attorneys for the three men said that their clients were looking forward to a trial as a chance to clear their names.
"Raul Gutierrez and his company have enjoyed an excellent reputation in the airport construction industry," his lawyer, Bruce Lyons, said.
"This indictment is something we will deal with and hopefully we will be vindicated."
Those named in the indictment face sentences of up to 20 years each if convicted of money laundering and conspiracy and up to five years each on wire fraud conspiracy charges. The two companies could be fined up to US$30 million each.
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