The National Lotteries Control Board (NLCB) awarded a $.5 million contract to a marketing employee who, unknowing to the board, had set up his own company after joining the State entity in January 2013.
And while Jevon Jeffrey has dismissed claims of a conflict of interest surrounding his hiring at the NLCB, Sunday Express investigations have revealed otherwise.
“The people complaining are not aware of the timelines. I am first and foremost a businessman. When you look at the timeline of when I was hired and when my company was awarded the contract a conflict of interest does not arise. The company was formed back in 2012 that was before I was hired at the NLCB. The company is not doing any work for NLCB at this point in time,” Jeffrey told the Sunday Express in an interview on Friday.
Jeffrey is a director of Fontaine Branding Solutions Ltd, a company he and siblings Keon and Anthony formed two months after he was hired by NLCB in January last year. Company records obtained by the Sunday Express show that when Fontaine Branding Solutions Ltd was incorporated on March 14, 2013, on the same date the company was recommended by Advantage Advertising Services Ltd to provide promotional giveaways for NLCB to be used during Carnival and corporate events last year.
The business address for the company was listed as Fraser Lane, Green Street, Tunapuna.
And according to records at the Ministry of Legal Affairs, as at January 24, 2014 the company’s address remains the same.
However, on March 21, 2013 when the company submitted the $511,750 (VAT inclusive) invoice to the NLCB, the address was listed as 9-11 Fitt Street, Woodbrook.
The invoice failed to list the telephone number of the company.
The invoice was detailed as follows:
•5,000 printed water bottles-$90,000
•3,000 universal mobile phone car chargers-$78,000
•5,000 drawstring sport bags-$100,000
•5,000 cooler bags-$90,000
•3,000 headphones with pouch-$87,000
On March 22 NLCB’s director Camille Forde approved payment and a cheque was prepared on March 26 for the company.
Questions surround Jeffrey
The decision to hire Jeffrey as both a service provider and an employee at the NLCB is not sitting well with employees who are calling for an investigation into the matter.
The Sunday Express learned that the Winston Siriram-led board had also requested a report from Forde on the procurement process that was used to award Fontaine Branding Solutions Ltd the contract.
By letter dated April 4, 2013 Forde responded to Siriram’s queries.
In the letter obtained by the Sunday Express, Forde stated that on October 18, 2012 the marketing committee of the NLCB agreed to use $4 million to finance the procurement of branding services for Carnival 2013 and corporate giveaways.
Forde said the committee agreed that the money would have been taken from the budgetary allocation of $30.8 million.
A decision, Forde said, was taken to engage a service provider and a contract was awarded to Advantage Advertising Ltd.
Forde said: “Consequent upon the decision by the marketing committee, the marketing department on consultation with the online and Instant Money Game (IMG) managers selected the promotional items to be used for Carnival and corporate activities. The list was subsequently submitted to Advantage Advertising Services Ltd who recommended several companies to provide the various promotional items.” Regarding the companies selected, Forde said on January 30, 2013 USB Models Mercuri Caribbean Ltd was recommended by Advantage Advertising Services Ltd to provide the following promotional items:
•2,000 custom flashlight keychains •1,000 custom drawstring bags
•2,000 custom roll up water bottles
•500 custom lighted glasses
•250 promotional sunglasses
•1,000 custom hand sanitisers
•500 custom lip balms
•500 custom stress balls
•1,000 custom nail files
•500 custom 3D gaming glasses
•1,000 custom fabric totes
•250 custom umbrellas
•5,000 custom solo pencils
•2,500 custom hand sanitiser pens
•100 custom lunch bags
•100 custom lunch totes
•150 custom folding chairs
•1,000 custom duffle bags
•1,000 custom desk caddies
Fontaine Branding Solutions Ltd was recommended by Advantage Advertising to supply all the items listed in the March 21 invoice, Forde said.
However, based on queries, Forde said the cheque was placed on hold. The letter added: “Please note the cheque under query dated March 26, 2013 (Fontaine Branding Solutions Ltd) is still within the possession of the NLCB, its disbursement having been placed on hold by the marketing committee chairman pending discussions with management on the best type and use of the items, given the need for corporate giveaways. It should be noted that there is an urgent need to implement the approved Play Whe loyalty programme, given the notable decrease in sales, following the cessation of the Money Ball promotion.”
The Sunday Express learned the cheque was quietly released to Fontaine Branding Solutions Ltd in May without the knowledge of the board. Investigations revealed that at the time of the award of the contract and the hiring of Jeffrey a board had not yet been appointed.
Forde, the Sunday Express learned, was responsible for decision making at the NLCB in the absence of a board.
But when the Sunday Express contacted Forde yesterday for comment she said: “I am aware the chairman gave you a statement. I am a public servant and I am not authorised to speak to the media.”
Unable to contact Jeffrey via telephone on Friday, the Sunday Express then visited the Woodbrook address listed on the company’s invoice.
Fontaine Branding Solutions Ltd could not be found.
Instead, the Sunday Express located a company trading as ESG Business Suites at the 9 -11 Fitt Street, Woodbrook address.
The company engages in the rental of offices.
Upon conducting enquiries the Sunday Express learned that Fontaine Branding Solutions Ltd never operated from the Woodbrook address as stated on the invoice.
In fact, ESG service co-ordinator Roxanne Soverall told the Sunday Express that she never heard of the company.
“I do not even know that company. They do not rent any of our offices. I have been working here for the past three years and I know all of my clients. The address on that invoice is for ESG Suites. Fontaine Branding Solutions Services Ltd is not one of our clients. I am shocked,” Soverall said.
Upon further probing, Soverall recalled that Jeffrey often visited the office of Mercuri Caribbean Ltd- a former client of ESG.
Soverall said: “I know him (Jeffrey), but Fontaine Branding Solutions Ltd does not operate from 9 to 11 Fitt Street, Woodbrook.”
However, Jeffrey had a different story to tell when the Sunday Express caught up with him at the Fraser Lane, Green Street, Tunapuna address seeking answers.
Asked by the Sunday Express if Fontaine Branding Solutions Ltd had changed it address given the information stated on the March 21 invoice, Jeffrey said: “We operated from there for about six months. That address was placed on the invoice so we could be contacted.”
The matter is not an isolated one at the NLCB.
The Sunday Express learned that questions have also been raised as to who is responsible for fraudulently creating an invoice bearing the letterhead and logo of Media 21 Limited.
Media 21 is one of the largest multimedia service providers in T&T which has been doing business with the NLCB for the past five years.
However, the fraudsters were able to bypass Forde who signed off approving payment of an invoice totaling $67,850 (VAT inclusive) on July 16, 2013.
The fake invoice was submitted on June 25, 2013 to the NLCB for rental of equipment and services for the company’s sports day held on July 21in St Ann’s.
The NLCB was invoiced by (the fake Media 21 Ltd) as follows:
•Sound system -$1,000
•Ultra deck outdoor flooring-$40,000
•Draughting plan and preparing venue -$8,000
Three days later, on June 28 the NLCB again received four invoices via fax from “Media 21” to provide the same service on the same date (July 21 ).
The four VAT inclusive invoices however totaled $95,450 and were listed as follows:
•#8437-sound system and technical services -$34,500
•#8439-ultra deck outdoor flooring-$46,000
•8440- draughting plan and preparing venue-$9,200
Sunday Express learned that the duplication of the invoices immediately caused red flags to be raised in the accounting department where it was later detected that the June 25 invoice was fraudulent after several discrepancies were discovered.
Upon perusal of the June 25 invoice the following discrepancies were discovered:
•The Media 21 letterhead and logo were not authentic.
• The invoice number 003 was in contrast to the consecutive listing of numbers on the four invoices
•The company’s VAT registration number was not listed on the invoice
•The signature of Media 21 operations manager Sean Mahabirsingh was forged
•The computation for the sound system was calculated wrongly. The unit cost was listed at $25,000, however total cost of the item was put at a mere $1,000.
And when the Sunday Express contacted Mahabirsingh last Friday enquiring whether he was informed of the matter, he said: “Nobody told me anything.”
The Sunday Express then e-mailed copies of the invoices to Mahabirsingh seeking verification of its authenticity and his signature.
When the Sunday Express again contacted Media 21 Ltd on Friday an official said the company was not ready to respond to the matter.