The four-year $1.5 million money-laundering trial of Michael Coye, 65, and his daughter, Melanie Coye, climaxed when Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin sentenced them to three years in prison on Wednesday, August 8.
The co-owners of Money Gram International were also fined $50,000 each, to be paid within a year of completing their prison sentence, or spend another year in jail.
The Chief Justice was relatively lenient on their two Moneygram employees, Deitrick Kingston and Athlee Matute, who escaped prison time although they were also found guilty. Each was fined the minimum: $25,000.
Money gram International was fined the maximum: $100,000, to be paid immediately.
C.J. Benjamin observed that the Money Laundering Act created the offence for modern times, and said, “The court must ensure that the punishment fits the crime. It is important that this court send a message.”
In sentencing Melanie Coye, Benjamin said, “The evidence discloses that you are the mastermind of the scheme. This offence is very, very serious. Your sentence must operate as a deterrent.”
To Michael Coye, he said the evidence, as it unfolded, shows that the older Coye played a key role in the scheme, leaving him no choice but fine and confine him.
In court, Michael’s wife, Marlene, made an impassioned plea for clemency. “We are not money launderers,” she declared in voice choking with emotion. “We lost everything!” she said.
Two doctors who were scheduled to testify on the Coye’s behalf did not show up at the afternoon hearing.
Justice Benjamin was considerate of Athlee Matute. He told him that his mother and his wife’s description of the hardship his family would face without him was very helpful.
Addressing Kingston, the Chief Justice said he was mindful that he had survived the tough south-side, gang -infested neighborhood in which he grew up, and that he had become a productive citizen, who had topped his training class in becoming a firefighter. He had demonstrated leadership ability, as the Fire Department’s training officer, Orin Smith testified before the court.
He told Kingston, “There is no evidence that you got any financial benefit out of the scheme.”
Attorneys for the four defendants were Arthur Saldivar and Dickie Bradley, who had urged the court not to impose a custodial sentence on their clients.
After the sentencing, Senior Counsel and lead prosecutor Antoinette Moore, who was assisted by Tricia Pitts-Anderson and Patricia Arana, replied to assertions by attorney Saldivar that the case was fraught with irregularities.
Moore said the sentencing was a difficult matter, as the judge has to weigh both the mitigation as well as the aggravation. But she felt the sentencing was fair to all.
Saldivar told reporters, “This was a shoddy investigation if any investigation was done at all.
“If this is what we consider the requirements for justice to be served, then justice was buried today and was buried on Friday because at the end of the day you had clear evidence of monies coming out of banks … not one bank, not two banks and not just a couple years ago but as far back as the year 2000.”
Saldivar said the defense has enough legal grounds to appeal the verdict and appeal papers will be lodged before the expiration of the 21 days required to file.
The court has ordered the suitcases with the money to be kept in a safe place until the appeal can be heard.
The protracted case dates back to December 31, 2008, when police officers attached to the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) along with Crimes Investigation Branch officers raided the Coye home at #12 Johnson Street and seized suitcases containing $1,557,789 in Belize currency.
The case was originally tried before Supreme Court Justice Adolph Lucas , who upheld a no-case submission from the defence.
FIU, unsatisfied with the outcome of that trial, appealed the decision to the Belize Court of Appeal, which ordered a new trial.