A woman who spent over 25 years working for a Jamaican financial services firm says she regrets participating in a scandal that allegedly defrauded clients out of $3 billion.
While she originally confessed to her involvement in the high-level scam, she now says she only admitted to the crime because her former boss and company founder promised her something to take the fall.
Jean-Ann Panton and nine others are being sued by Jean Forde, an 80-year-old investor, who alleges that Stocks and Securities Limited stole $830,000 out of her portfolio. However, this complaint is one of a much larger web of deceit, costing hundreds of people much or all of their retirement savings, including Olympic athlete Usain Bolt.
Panton now says she is sorry for her role in the embezzlement but wants on the record that she was persuaded to confess by her old boss, Hugh Croskery, according to the Jamaican Gleaner.
In the document filed in the Supreme Court in Kingston on May 25, she explained how Croskery, the third defendant in the case, made her promises if she confessed.
“In trepidation, the second defendant (Panton) says that the background of the alleged confession was premised, on an offer made by the third defendant (Croskery) on behalf of the first defendant (SSL). The said offer was an inducement and the statement would not have been made otherwise,” her lawyers wrote in the filing.
“The second defendant (Panton) therefore puts the claimant to strictly prove the validity of the alleged confession statement and allegations according to law,” the legal team continued.
Panton is the first and only person named in the lawsuit that has signed a confession statement.
On Jan. 7 Panton said in her statement that she knowingly stole the money “over the course of several years.”
At the top of the year, the former client relationship manager also said “she “used various mechanisms to take money from clients” and “created false statements to provide to the clients reflecting what they should have in their accounts and not the sum actually had in their accounts.”
Her defense, now that she is before the court, is that Croskery struck up a deal with her for her confession.
Through his lawyers, Croskery vehemently denies bartering with Panton.
King’s Counsel Peter Champagnie, in Jamaica, said the woman’s allegation “does not accord” with what his client has shared with him.
“I would not want to venture into a discourse concerning what it is that Panton is alleged to have said. Her matter is best before the court and it is best dealt with in the court,” Champagnie said in an interview on Monday, May 29.
Panton’s statement was part of an internal investigation Stocks and Securities Limited conducted after the scandal broke. The former employee named 39 clients she stole from while at the firm. Those accounts totaled over $700 million, with her admitting to siphoning off 20 percent from each one. According to her confession, she got away with $109 million.
“I feel remorse for my actions,” Panton said in her statement, which was officially notarized with a seal and signature from a Justice of the Peace.
Though she now says she was persuaded to confess almost six months ago, she declared in the culminating paragraphs, “I gave the above statement… voluntarily and of my own free will, and I am of sound mind. I confirm that I obtained legal advice before swearing to this statement and the said statement was given in the presence of my attorney-at-law.”
Around the time of her lone confession, Panton was fired. She was later charged in February for her role in the fraud of her clients.
The firm submitted a statement regarding Panton, saying, “The former employee’s dishonesty has led to the most widely publicized news event from Jamaica in recent years.”
In January 2023, upon becoming aware of what its workers were doing, SSL reported the fraud to the regulator Financial Services Commission (FSC). The FSC then took over SSL as temporary managers.
In a January statement, Croskery said he was unaware of any fraud at the firm when he resigned five years ago.
While Forde is the central figure in the case against Panton, SSL is embroiled in multiple lawsuits alleging a similar practice of defrauding.
Jamaican superstar athlete Bolt’s company Welljen Limited was another account ripped off in the larger SSL financial debacle. While other previous company executives have pointed to Panton as the account manager for Bolt’s investments, the portfolio for the star athlete’s holding company was not mentioned on the list included with her confession.
“My understanding is that he [Bolt] only ever dealt with one person with his account and that was Jean-Ann Panton,” said former CEO SSL Zachary Harding, who resigned from the firm in June 2022. “So as to what Jean-Ann Panton could have been doing, or saying, or showing him, nobody would know except for her, because she was the only person that they dealt with.”
SSL also said in a subsequent statement that it was unaware that the portfolio was affected until Bolt came forward.
The track star’s manager Nugent Walker noticed his account with the private investment firm was fleeced for millions. Bolt acted against SSL after his fortune dwindled down to $12,000.
On Jan. 16, his lawyers made a clear ultimatum in a letter sent to SSL to return every penny of the $12,758,181.74 — the reported balance in Bolt’s account on October 31, 2022 — or they would file both civil and criminal complaints against the firm.
Like Forde, Welljen Limited also has sued SSL. The eight-time Olympic gold medalist called the ordeal a “sad situation” that has left him “disappointed” and “confused.”
In addition, Bolt had this to say: “It has definitely put a damper on me. This was for my future. Everybody knows I have three kids. I’m still looking after my parents, and I still want to live very well.”