Henrietta Christine Stapleton on June 26, 2012.
Photo Credit: BVI Platinum News
The trial involving the manager of Cruise by Christine who allegedly stole $51,289.00 that was paid for a cruise for senior citizens in commemoration of Senior Citizens Month in 2009, has commenced in the High Court.
Henrietta Christine Stapleton is representing herself in the trial and pleaded not guilty to forty seven (47) counts of theft.
Senior Crown Counsel Christlyn Benjamin in her opening address to members of the jury yesterday, June 26, told them that there are two things which they must not get emotional about; the fact that Stapleton is representing herself and that the alleged act was done against seniors in the community. She said the defendant has a right to represent herself if she chooses to do so.
The prosecutor walked the jurors through the prosecution's case against Stapleton. She said the complainant in the case is the Social Development Department (SDD), as they were the ones who reported the matter to the Police. She said they were acting on behalf of the various Senior Citizens Centers across the Territory.
"This case involved theft from the seniors/elderly; that in itself sparks some emotion. I must give you some caution...do not allow your emotion to judge this case; judge the facts," she stated.
Benjamin said May is celebrated as Senior Citizens Month in the Territory and in 2009, it was their 20th anniversary. In commemoration of the milestone, the department decided to organize a cruise for seniors. She said it would have taken place on May 24, 2009.
Benjamin told the jurors that they then identified an agent to organize the cruise and that person was Stapleton. While Stapleton would arrange the cruise, the passengers would arrange their own airfare to Puerto Rico where the cruise with Carnival Cruise Line would start.
It is alleged that Stapleton held a meeting sometime between June and July 2008 with representatives of the SDD and managers of the centres throughout the Territory. At that meeting, it is alleged that she told them she was an agent and she had booked many cruises in the past.
At the meeting, Stapleton allegedly explained the process of how she would go about booking the cruise for the seniors and guided them through the different prices and the process of payment.
Benjamin said a total 64 persons signed up to go on the cruise and of that number, a few family and friends of seniors were included. Benjamin stated that it was agreed that the managers were the point of contact for the defendant when it came to payment.
The prosecutor said it had been agreed that the money for the cruise would be paid in installments. This meant that each passenger would pay the initial sum of $50.00 to secure the cabin and thereafter the installments would start. She said Stapleton gave them a deadline of January 31, 2009 for all payments to be made to her.
"...She agreed also that the monies will be collected in installments and for each payment she would issue receipt in their name, acknowledging that the monies were received...Some made bank draft, deposited to her bank account on her instructions, cash, cheque...$50.00 each initial deposit and then remaining payment flexible...January 31 2009 was her deadline...Managers will tell you that all the persons who booked the cruise paid their money in full...There was a minority who paid after deadline; they came in the group late...," she stated.
Benjamin said Carnival Cruise Line's deadline for payment was April 10, 2009. "Carnival Cruise Line's deadline and the time by which all the monies were to be paid, so there was more than enough time for her to pay the cruise line and that is our case...In addition to receipts and it is only upon making full payment for all persons, only then she gave them a letter confirming their itinerary, booking number..."
She told jurors that they will hear that the cruise was indeed booked for the seniors and $24,700.00 was paid, but due to the fact that all the monies of $51,289.00 were not paid in time, the cruise line cancelled the May 24 cruise. Benjamin said this is after the fact that the seniors paid the full amount of monies to Stapleton through the managers of the senior citizens centres.
"You will see the booking was cancelled due to the fact that full payment was not made for the group, that resulted in the cruise being cancelled. It is our case that this cancellation was as a direct result of her action when she did not make the payment...$51,289 was paid to her...It is as a result of the outstanding amount. It was canceled on May 7, 2009 by Carnival Cruise Line 26 days after the deadline...You will find that the cruise line extended the deadline so she could make her payment. We know everybody had paid by March 2009," Benjamin told the jurors.
The Prosecutor said the cruise line has a policy where as a result of cancellation, the person who booked will have to incur a penalty and in this case, Stapleton had to pay the cruise line $22,867.00. Benjamin said after the cruise line had already received the $24,000 as a downpayment for the cruise, they then took the $22,000 as the penalty monies for Stapleton out of the downpayment.
Meanwhile, Benjamin said it was by chance that one of the managers found out that the cruise was cancelled and she called Stapleton, who allegedly admitted that the full payment was not made and it was as a result of that the cruise was cancelled. It is alleged that she told them that she will reimburse them or get them on another cruise since the monies were inappropriately used.
"...She said the monies were late because it was inappropriately used and she will reimburse them...At no time she told them of a difficulty to these persons...She is well familiar with Carnival Cruise policy; she knew failure to pay would result in cancellation...It's our case that when she started calling around, she was being honest when she admitted that the money was late and was used inappropriately."
She added, "...Her actions were deceitful and dishonest because she knew that she collected those people money and she knew she didn't pay it to cruise line, and she knew the consequences if the monies were not paid on time...What she did amounts to theft...The monies were paid for booking a cruise on May 24, 2009; no other purpose..."
Benjamin told the jurors that though some of the monies were paid to the cruise, that same money had to be used for her penalty, "and it is as a result of her action the cruise was cancelled..."
Two persons out of the 64 were able to travel on the same cruise line, while the then Government paid for the seniors to go on another cruise after learning of the incident. However, the prosecutor said they have signed an agreement that if and when they get back the money from Stapleton, they will have to repay Government.
The trial continues today and the crown will be calling a total of nine witnesses during the trial. Justice Albert Redhead is presiding over the trial.
Stapleton remains on bail.