Trinidad cops bust million-dollar ‘pyramid scheme’, boxes of cash seized

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(Trinidad Express) The “pyramid scheme” is crumbling.

Nine people, including a member of the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force, were held yesterday morning during a police operation in La Horquetta where police seized a large quantity of money estimated to be in the millions.

Up to last night, officers from the Northern Division and the Financial Investigations Branch were still counting the cash which was found in a house at Kathleen Warner Drive, Phase One, La Horquetta.

Police said a team of officers from the Special Operations Response Team (SORT) under the supervision of Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith and Deputy Commissioner of Police Jayson Forde received intelligence that a group of persons had gathered to “conduct business” in the vicinity of the La Horquetta Village Shopping Plaza

The business was a “pyramid scheme”, police said.

As a result, an operation was led by Sgt Hernandez, with assistance from Senior Supt Ramkhelawan who heads the Northern Division.

A mini-bus was brought by the officers to the location, in case large groups of people had to be detained.

When officers arrived at the scene, those gathered dispersed.

A search warrant was executed at the house and police detained ten people for questioning, after a large quantity of cash was found in the house, and no one was able to give any reasonable accounts as to how the cash was obtained.

The money was being kept in several boxes throughout the home, police said.

Some of the cash was hidden, with money being found in the roofing of the apartment, as well as in an empty tank.

Unseen hand

The Finance Intelligence Branch was contacted and the money was moved to the nearby La Horquetta Police Station.

Once the funds have been totalled, the money is expected to be placed in a financial institution until the investigations are completed.

One of the ten detained was subsequently released after he spoke to investigators.

Police said the money is believed to be part of a “sou sou” group, one of the biggest in the country.

A “sou sou” is an informal, co-operative loan system in which each person contributes the same fixed amount weekly, monthly or at speci­fied periods.

The whole amount is taken by a different member each time until all members collect a “hand”.

The practice is popular in Trinidad and Tobago and throughout the ­Caribbean.

Police were told members were asked to give at least $10,000 to join, before they were placed into groups to collect “by hand”.

One such group, police were told, was started over the weekend.

Based on intelligence received police said the members of these “sou sou” groups may be about 10,000.

Several regulatory authorities, including the Intelligence Unit (FIU), Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago (CBTT) and the Financial System Regulatory Authorities had jointly issued an advisory urging members of the public about joining “pyramid schemes”.

These advisories were sent out after people complained that they never got their “hand” when it was time for them to collect money in their rotation.

In a release issued yesterday, Griffith advised that when the police find “that amount of money”, it will be seized as evidence.

He warned the public that when the police receive a tip-off, they will find the location and seize the money. That would mean people would lose their hard-earned money they invested in these schemes.

Additionally, citizens are being reminded to adhere to the guidelines prescribed under the Public Health Ordinance as it pertains to the gathering of persons.

Previously, Griffith had stated the law was vague as it applied to the jurisdiction of police in private property.

However, he insisted the law was clear on the guidelines for public spaces and said the police continued to operate within the parameters of the law.

Angry residents

When the Express visited the community yesterday, several persons were angry with the actions of the police.

“There is nothing in the law which says a sou sou is illegal. So why is it the police are saying that we will not be able to get back any of the money here? Why is the police taking advantage of poor people? They won’t dare touch people in the West, or start their operations there but they come to trouble poor people soul. You see why crime can’t done in this place,” one man told the Express.

Another man noted there was another sou sou operation close to where the police had raided.

“If people come together, to put in our money, and do with our money how we want to, why are the police getting involved? Right now, men gonna try to take out their money from (name called) if this is how the police behaving these days,” the man said.

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