HOME BASE: The building which was reportedly used as the base of the New Flying Squad Investigation Unit headquarters at Factory Road, Piarco. —Photo: ANISTO ALVES

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We worked for Mervyn Cordner

Unpaid 'informants' speak out:

By Asha Javeed asha.javeed@trinidadexpress.com

Mervyn Cordner, the retired sergeant who claimed he was head of the revived New Flying Squad Investigation Unit (NFSIU) under the Ministry of National Security, has bills to pay.

The Express understands Cordner has outstanding debts for the now-defunct unit which apparently accrued when he claimed the unit was operational from June to December.

Documents obtained by the Express show those debts include the rental of a building at Macoya which was negotiated at $375,000 plus VAT for the months of September to November and four months' worth of rent at $200,000 a month to Donrich Security Kennels Ltd at Piarco, where the NFSIU was allegedly housed as well as salary claims amounting to $4.3 million for the six-month period the unit allegedly operated.

In addition, the Express understands Cordner also has an outstanding balance at the Chaguanas-based doctor's offices of Ramesh Mathura who conducted medical examinations on the men he recruited to be part of his team.

Mathura confirmed to the Express he was asked to be part of Cordner's NFSIU and was on a payroll which was sent to the Ministry of National Security.

"I was asked to be a part of it and I kept quiet about it. I attended several meetings. My information was that the directive came from the Ministry of National Security. I would support any initiative to fight crime," he told the Express in a telephone interview yesterday.

He said while he was owed money, he was more concerned about the crime situation in the country and felt that one possible solution was indeed a Flying Squad-type unit.

The Express obtained a copy of the NFSIU's expenses from June, 2012 to December, 2012.

Cordner's salary was set at $65,000 a month; Michael Lambert, who was NFSIU's operations director, had a salary set at $50,000; Purnell Pacheco, who was NFSIU's finance director, was set at $50,000; Trevor St Louis, NFSIU's administration director, had a salary set at $50,000, and Lance Lashley, who was the general manager, had a salary set at $40,000.

Lambert yesterday insisted the unit was operational and men "were working around the clock" to get information on guns, drugs and ammunition.

Lashley declined comment.

Cordner previously told the Express he had the verbal approval of National Security Minister Jack Warner to set up the unit. 

Warner became Minister of National Security on June 23 last year and said he first met Cordner in July at a meeting arranged by his media adviser Francis Joseph.

The payroll also included two employees at the Ministry of National Security as well as attorney Thomas Cunningham at $15,000 a month.

Contacted by phone yesterday Cunningham told the Express it should pose its questions to Cordner before ending the call.

The Express also understands that Cordner was actively recruiting people and promised them money as payment for information. 

Apart from recruiting retired police officers, the Express was told Cordner was also recruiting people as "undercover Flying Squad agents" who had access to information which would have been of use to the unit.

Several recruits spoke to the Express yesterday under condition of anonymity.

"In a technical sense, the men were just informants," said one man who went to meetings at the Factory Road-base of the unit.

"(Cordner) held meetings and spoke to the men and told them this was going to happen because he had meetings with the permanent secretary and everything was on par. And people fell for it. The man sold a dream and they bought it in good faith.

"When the Ministry of National Security didn't want any part of it, he get vex and launched his own attack. People worked. They didn't work for the Ministry of National Security. They worked for Mervyn Cordner as informants. People would give information," the Express was told. 

The source told the Express Cordner capitalised on the Government's need to fight crime and had come up with a proposal, but the Ministry did not follow through after acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams dismissed the idea of a revived unit.

"However, the informants kept doing their job but weren't paid for their efforts as Cordner did not have the blessings of the Ministry of National Security. People threatened him because he didn't sell it to them that the unit wasn't signed off. He told them it was a done deal. And under pressure because he's owning money, he has started to speak out," the Express was told.

Cordner had alleged the unit operated from July to December 2012 and had a claim of $24 million to the Ministry of National Security. He claimed to have given the police information to solve six murders.

A source from the Ministry of National Security acknowledged Cordner did pass on information to director of the National Security Operations Centre (NSOC) Garvin Heerah who subsequently treated it as intelligence and passed it on to the relevant authorities.

"In that instance, Cordner was no different from an informant himself," the source said.

Warner has denied the unit was ever operational and is expected to deliver a report to the National Security Council today.

Flying Squad operations revealed According documents obtained by the Express, Cordner tried repeatedly to get written confirmation from the Ministry:  • August 8, 2012—Meeting at Ministry of National Security to discuss crime and how the proposal will affect change in the short term. • August 22, 2012—Cordner meets with members of the proposed NFSIU to discuss team member contracts, offers them a "gratuity on completion of a two-year contract, team members will be eligible for visas, all persons will be attached to the Ministry of National Security, all operations people will be precepted to active duty, all team members will seek the national interest and information on the Chinese will be the first phase to address". • September 11, 2012—Letter from Dr Mervyn Cordner to Minister of National Security on a Thomas Cunningham and Company Attorneys at Law letterhead: "Dr Mervyn Cordner and members of the Flying Squad are in receipt of information and are ready to proceed with operations throughout the country including the covering of the Laventille area where the spate of recent murders are the topic of the day. The opportunity to occupy premises to carry out covert operations is in delay because accommodation has not been had, along with the necessary tools to operate. I agree that steps have to be taken in managerial and financial institutions however, because of the behaviour of the public it behooves me to enquire of you whether it is necessary for me to submit to you written terms as to the method of operations." Signed by Dr Mervyn Cordner. • October 10, 2012—Cordner writes to Dui Jin, China Machinery Engineering Corporation acknowledging receipt of a letter dated October 6, 2012.  "We agree that in the future we would be willing to participate in any transaction as it related to any discussions we have had previously." • October 16, 2012—A list of equipment which the unit requires for immediate operations is submitted to the Ministry of National Security • November 22, 2012—Cordner has meeting with NFSIU. The minutes read: "Members of the unit would be known as agents of the Ministry of National Security and will report directly to him and he in turn will report to the Minister of National Security. Mr Cordner explained that he has submitted a proposal and crime plan to the Minister of National Security for his consideration. In his proposal he has requested certain incentives and benefits for the agents such as life insurance, laptops, phones and a good remuneration package. He would like these to be approved and in place before the implementation of the programme. He is currently awaiting the go-ahead from the Minister. • November 22, 2012—Administration officer Trevor St Louis wrote a letter addressed to Warner to inform him of the operations and financial status of the NFSIU which has been in operation since June 2012. "The unit is one which operates in a covert/surveillance mode. To date, the unit has provided viable and vital information as it pertains to crime. The method and approach was with the highest level of professionalism with little or no form of assistance from other key security agencies other than those attached to the unit," the letter stated. Attached to that letter was a list of people associated to the unit, the salaries paid to the unit members, areas where they worked as well as "supporting documents along with conversations held amongst senior personnel via the operations of the unit."

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