Over the next few weeks, Guardian Media will be highlighting a multi-part investigative series that hinges on underworld activity and key players that police have been monitoring for a period of time.
This is the first part in the Underworld Files series.
Seven reputed gang leaders in north Trinidad have benefited from State contracts worth close to $6 million in spite of assurances by Government to the contrary.
The money was paid to alleged gang leaders based in communities in the Port-of-Spain to Diego Martin areas over the last three years.
This information is contained in a confidential eight-page Special Branch report prepared in mid-May that was obtained as part of a Guardian Media investigation just a week after Police Commissioner Gary Griffith blamed the state for placing funds in the hands of gang leaders.
He warned that this practice had fuelled gang wars and contributed to an upsurge in homicides over the last 15 years.
Griffith said: “It is very difficult for the Police Service to try to provide safety and security to a country when the State continues to facilitate major contracts for gang members.
This is not the first time and I hope it could come to an end one day.”
Speaking on CNC3’s The Morning Brew, Griffith added: “For the last 15 years, homicides went in this country from 150-odd to 500 after 15 years because of different administrations coming and going, continuing to give multi-million contracts to gang members by calling them community leaders and by probably assisting to win an election.”
Some of the issues raised by Commissioner Griffith are laid bare in the confidential Special Branch report which identifies individuals who obtained State contracts and were affiliated with organised crime groups.
One reputed gang leader in the report from Diego Martin, who goes by the alias “Doggy”, obtained eight contracts between 2015 and 2018 for a construction and landscaping company in which he was a director. All the contracts were awarded by the Diego Martin Regional Corporation (DMRC).
According to the Special Branch report, he is the leader of the Bagatelle criminal gang and has been involved in extortion, trafficking of drugs and firearms and suspected murders.
His first contract, awarded in 2015, was valued at $500,000 and was for construction of box drains in Blue Bagatelle, Diego Martin. He later landed a $200,000 contract for road works in Blue Basin.
In 2016, the reputed gang leader was awarded a contract for close to $300,000 to build box drains in Upper Dibe Road, Long Circular.
One year later, he obtained a $200,000 contract to reform and pave the roadway at North West Drive. Last year, he won two contracts to pave the roadway at Yellow Drive, Bagatelle, for $92,820 and $84,600 respectively.
He was awarded a contract to construct box drains in Cravat Circular for $164,000 in 2018 and in that same year, also got a job to pave roads at Second Trace and Jean Avenue Extension for a total of $452,000.
There was little evidence that these projects had been completed when Guardian Media visited the areas.
In fact, at Cravat Circular there were broken pipelines spewing water and several areas were still in dire need of proper box drains.
In three years, the State paid “Doggy” almost $2 million for repairs to roads and to build box drains in Diego Martin.
Another reputed gang leader in Diego Martin, SR, landed three contracts in two years for his construction company, according to the Special Branch report.
In 2016, he was awarded two box drain contracts worth $882,899 at Upper Dibe Road and Unity Gardens. In 2018, he got a contract to build box drains at Ali Trace which pushed the value of the contracts he landed to just over $1 million.
The report states that lucrative contracts were awarded to reputed gang leader with the initials CL, and the alias of a famous American boxer, who operates around St Paul Street and Desperlie Crescent in East Port-of-Spain and is associated with the Rasta City gang.
Between 2015 and 2018 he landed eight contracts worth $648,400 through a construction company in which he is identified as a director.
These contracts were awarded by the Port-of-Spain City Corporation.
In 2015 he got at least three latrine eradications projects together worth $210,500 in the Port-of-Spain North area at John Street, Alexander Hill, and Alexander Palace.
That same year, he was also given a contract for drainage and irrigation at Lovell Place, as well as a contract to build roads and bridges for a combined cost of $160,700.
A additional $231,750 in contracts was awarded to the reputed Rasta City gang leader in 2018 for drainage and irrigation work at Annisette Street and L’eau Place.
The Special Branch report also identified a gang leader with Rasta City gang who operates in the Port-of-Spain and Belmont areas.
Through a development company in which he is listed as director, he obtained four contracts worth just over $400,000.
However, the details of those projects were vague, only identifying a location with no specific year given.
The Port-of-Spain City Corporation also gave contracts to two other reputed gang leaders.
One with the initials CB, described as another leader of the Rasta City gang, and one with the alias “Bigman” who was described as a senior leader of the Rasta City gang.
CB’s company landed three contracts in 2015 in the Sea Lots area amounting to just over $236,000 for latrine eradication at Production Avenue and Pioneer Drive.
Rasta City lieutenant, known as Bigman, got four contracts which were strikingly similar in the same area between 2015 to 2018 amounting to over $650,000.
The report also identified a man known to the police by the alias “Sprang” was got six contracts from the Port-of-Spain City Corporation between 2015-2018 amounting to $1 million.
Special Branch Head, ACP Hinds stated at the end of the report: “Intelligence indicates that persons of interest were able to secure contracts or sub-contracts in spite of the Government’s intent to deny them such avenues of funding.”
The report continued: “Persons in authority within the Port-of-Spain and Diego Martin Regional Corporations have been colluding with criminal elements.”
While fear might be a motivating factor, “there are mutually beneficial relations between some gang members and some persons of authority (names to be ascertained),” it added.
Investigations to identify other regional corporations where gang members have been given contracts are continuing. The report underscored the importance of maintaining comprehensive records of contracts for accountability and transparency and to assist law enforcement.
MP’s demand probe into claims
Guardian Media contacted MPs for areas where contracts were issued to reputed gang leaders.
Darryl Smith, the MP for Diego Martin Central, said when he was chairman of the Diego Martin Regional Corporation everything was regulated and sub-contractors were usually hired through a local government reform committee. He called for the matter to be brought to the “public’s attention and investigated.” Smith, a former Minister of Sport, was removed as a Cabinet Minister after allegations of sexual harassment were made against him by a former employee.
Diego Martin/North East MP Colm Imbert acknowledged that some of the contracts were given to alleged gang leaders in his constituency but was quick to point out that the Diego Martin Regional Corporation did not have to consult or seek the advice of the MP when issuing contracts. He suggested that the CEO of the corporation, who has signing authority, account for this.
“I have heard what you have said, and this must be investigated. I do not support this at all. This is under the purview of the DMRC. It most certainly must be investigated,” he said. Imbert holds the Cabinet portfolio of Finance Minister.
Reputed gang leaders also secured contracts in Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s Diego Martin West constituency. Last February, Dr Rowley insisted that he could not act unfairly against those that were not convicted of criminal activity said if these persons were engaging in crime the police needed to act.
Port-of-Spain South MP Marlene Mc Donald did not respond to calls for comment. She had been sacked from Cabinet after Sea Lots residents Cedric “Burkie” Burke and Kenroy Dopwell, were invited for her swearing-in at President’s House in June 2017. She was re-appointed as Minister of Public Administration in March 2018.
Stuart Young, Port-of-Spain North/St Ann’s West MP said in a WhatsApp response: “I do not get involved in the recommendation of the award of any contracts. As MP I certainly have not recommended the award of contracts. In fact, I have done the opposite and recommended the cancellation of contracts where allegations have been made about criminal associations.” Young also holds the Cabinet portfolios of National Security Minister, Communications Minister and Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister.
City Mayor unaware of trend
Port-of-Spain Mayor Joel Martinez said he was unaware reputed gang leaders were securing contracts at the Port-of-Spain City Corporation with the help of officials.
Martinez was responded to a confidential Special Branch report obtained by Guardian Media in which concerns were raised about reputed gang leaders landing millions in State contracts over the last three years.
“This is sounding like news to me, I am not aware of this and I am walking around the corporation everyday. We do not give contracts to anyone that did not legitimately get it,” he said.
Martinez also pointed out that members of the council are not privy to who gets contracts.
“I make sure the corporation is run in a proper manner. Unless there is smoke then we will have to investigate. We do not get involved in who gets contracts and things like that we stay far from,” he said.
Guardian Media also reached out to Chairman of the Diego Martin Regional Corporation Susan Hong for comment via text, WhatsApp and phone but up to press time she had not responded to our requests for a comment on the situation.
Reporter: Mark Bassant