Mark Jones (L) with Minister Karl Samuda at a JAMPRO-sponsored conference in Canada in 2011
By Claudette de la Haye
Caribbean News Now Investigative Contributor
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MIAMI, USA -- The March 15, 2016, indictment in Massachusetts of Mark A. Jones, former chairman and VP of Global Gateway Solutions Inc., on charges of defrauding retirees on a “bridge loan” Ponzi scheme based in Jamaica has raised questions as to what role, if any, the Jamaican government, both past and present, and others may have played in facilitating this scheme.
According to a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) complaint filed in US federal court in Boston, Jones began soliciting investors starting around 2007 and said their money would be pooled and used for "bridge loans" to Jamaican businesses awaiting funds from approved commercial bank loans. Jones told investors the bridge loans would generate approximately 15 percent to 20 percent interest a year.
Jones raised about $10 million from at least 21 investors in six states and Washington, DC, including three of his own relatives. Jones had told investors that their monies would be pooled to create a “Bridge Loan Fund” for Jamaican businesses and, that loans would pay 15-20% in interest annually.
Jones, 63, was arrested in Miami on March 13, 2016.
He owns 49 percent of Global Gateway Solutions Inc. (GGS), a Florida corporation that operates call centre facilities in Montego Bay’s Free Zone in Jamaica.
It appears that GGS was a Jamaican Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO)-sanctioned organization that received government backing to operate in the free zone.
A forensics declaration filed by the SEC alleged that $485,000 or five percent was paid from the US$10 million fraud to Jones’ GGS partner Jacqueline Sutherland, the owner of the other 51 percent of the company.
The SEC also alleges that, despite the fact that Jones was no longer a board member at GGS, he was still retained as a consultant by the company.
The SEC sought and obtained an emergency court order freezing Jones’ assets.
In reaching out to Sutherland, the current president of GGS, she was interviewed and asked for comment with regard to Jones in relation to her business and the arrest.
“I have done nothing wrong. Mark Jones gave his written resignation in May, 2015 to Global Gateway Solutions Inc., and he has absolutely nothing to do with the business,” she responded.
On Monday, March 21, 2016, at 10.30am, a live online discussion with talk show host Cliff Hughes, made mention of the fact that Sutherland had placed a notice in the Jamaican Gleaner over the weekend of March 19/20 stating, “Notice to the public. Please be advised that, Mark Andess Jones is no longer affiliated to Gateway Global Solutions. He is not authorized to do any business.”
It is unclear as to why this notice was not published in local media in May 2015 after Jones’ resignation and only made public after his indictment and arrest in the US.
Jones allegedly convinced unsophisticated investors and vulnerable individuals to invest in his Ponzi scheme. These individuals were often retirees who risked their entire life savings in Jones’ investment fund by depositing their monies into his bank account. Jones then allegedly used the funds from the new investors to pay personal expenses and paid interest to other investors – the classic hallmark of a Ponzi scheme. The SEC views such activities as securities fraud.
By July 2015, Jones’ attorney informed investors that he had lost their monies and on March 13, 2016, he was arrested in Miami. He remains in federal custody in Boston and must respond by April 11, 2016, to the civil complaint filed by the SEC.
Also unclear is the impact of the Jones indictment on the operations of GCS, given the reported investment/cash infusion of $485,000 cited by SEC from the proceeds of the alleged fraud.
Equally uncertain is the level of knowledge and/or involvement (if any) of the government of Jamaica through JAMPRO or otherwise in facilitating the bridge loan scheme.
A JAMPRO photo of Jacqueline Sutherland (L) and Mark Jones
Then-minister Karl Samuda was pictured with Jones at a JAMPRO-sponsored conference in Canada in 2011, where both men were keen to extol Jamaica’s economic virtues regarding call centre opportunities, the Caymanas Economic Zone and Blue Mountain Coffee.
What relationship did Jones have to Jamaican government leaders and the GGS management team? Will others be indicted? And will monies be paid back to Jones’ victims?
It would appear that there is more to this matter than meets the eye and answers to these and other questions will hopefully be forthcoming as investigations continue.
Meanwhile, such are the facts as they are today, which warrant another look in particular at the roles and impact Ponzi schemes have had in and around the Caribbean.
Ponzi schemes in the Caribbean have morphed into gargantuan activities, stifling the economic growth of individual island nations from 1989 to 2015 and often representing financial devastation for their victims.
Some Ponzi schemes have been government-facilitated mechanisms of epic proportions that turned horribly wrong.
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Claudette de la Haye