How Juctice Minister Duncan’s Hypnotic set its claws in the Seaman’s Club – Hangover after court victory

POSTED: 03/19/13 12:44 AM

The Hypnotic files part 4: The end of the road

When Richbenzwan N.V. signed a 10-year management contract with Hypnotic Hotel and Entertainment back in 2009 for the management of the Seaman’s Club brothel in Sucker Garden it soon found itself in one conflict after the other. Two court cases later Hypnotic is sitting pretty and Richbenzwan has been pushed with its back against the wall – and the fingerprints of Justice Minister Roland Duncan are all over these events.

Today reconstructed the history of this ugly dispute based on court documents this newspaper obtained. The Richardson family – owners of Richbenzwan – declined to be interviewed for these stories citing personal safety and security concerns but they gave permission to use the court documents.

St. Maarten / By Hilbert Haar – After Richbenzwan booked an overwhelming victory in court against Hypnotic Hotel and Entertainment on November 13 of last year it initially seemed like the dispute could finally been laid to rest. But it turned out to be nothing like that: the company would soon face a tremendous hangover. A second thorough review of various court documents by this newspaper reveals several facts that seem to be quite suspicious to say the least. Every time Richbenzwan made progress, some department in the government apparatus suddenly seemed to take an increased interest in the company. As the Chinese oracle I Tjing firmly believes: coincidences do not exist, but they haunted Richbenzwan like white on rice.

Court documents submitted in summary proceedings in the summer of 2012 describe in vivid detail who the players are on the Hypnotic team:”It is exceptionally weird that a pension fund acts as the director of Hypnotic. The fact that the Duncan Pension Fund is director and the actual interaction between parties clearly shows that Roland E. Duncan is a director and a principal of Hypnotic. The Chamber of Commerce has confirmed verbally that Duncan is director of Duncan and Brandon Management and of Duncan Pension Fund.”

The document further notes that Duncan’s role and his partnership with James Martin Carti in Hypnotic is “dubious” because of his position as Justice Minister. “He is playing chess on two boards and therewith violates article 35 of the constitution and the National Ordinance for the Promotion of Integrity of Ministers.”

The document indicates in carefully worded terms that the minister’s involvement potentially could and easily lead to conflict of interest situations.

As an example, the document refers to a meeting Richbenzwan attended whereby Udo Aron, the director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service IND was present. During a one on one conversation with Richbenzwan he indicated “that the justice minister intended to liberalize the prostitution sector. In the future everybody who meets certain quality requirements would be able to get a permit for the exploitation of a brothel.”

Richbenzwan sensed fast enough from which direction that wind was blowing: “Liberalizing the market would fit Hypnotic and with it Duncan and Carti like a glove. If the minister manages to realize this plan it could very well be that Richbenzwan will become its victim.”

Richbenzwan felt that these circumstances illustrate Hypnotic’s lack of good faith, and as time went by it would pick up more and more indications that seemed to support this feeling.

On July 6, 2012, Justice Minister Duncan sent a letter to James Carti, the “managing director of the Seaman’s Club. This is about three weeks before the ruling in summary proceedings that would for the better part go against Hypnotic.

There are all kinds of things wrong – or remarkable, to say the least – about this letter of which this newspaper obtained a copy. First there is the date: July 6, 2012, while Minister Duncan refers to a letter Carti sent him more than a month later, on August 8. This could be a simple mistake; Duncan likely wanted to refer to the July 6-letter.

Carti submitted a list of “dancers” (sic) who did not come to work in St. Maarten. While one would think that the managing director of a brothel knows which girls arrived and which ones did not; he asked the justice minister to confirm this, which is in itself a quite peculiar request to which one would expect a minister not to answer. Duncan however proves to be very service-minded towards his business partner James Carti and he informs him about the state of affairs: “Based on the list you submitted I can inform you that four of the ten submitted did not arrive on St. Maarten. The remaining six dancers did arrive on St. Maarten.”

The letter contains the names of ten women; the oldest is 33 and the youngest just 25. And then there is this suspicious sentence: “The following persons have arrived on St. Maarten and either left prematurely or may still be on the island.”

It is unclear which hat Duncan is wearing here: that of the justice minister, or that of the partner in Hypnotic. The letter is however printed on correspondence paper of his ministry. And how does the justice minister know which girls left the club prematurely?

This implies that the justice minister is aware that these women have left the Seaman’s Club but that he does not know of some of them whether they are still in St. Maarten.

Then, on August 15, James Carti sends Richbenzwan an email. In it, Carti states that he went to the labor office to request new dancers for the Seaman’s Club and that this office gave him ”a checklist of documentation” that needs to be completely updated before it would accept new request forms for new dancers.”

This was at a time when Hypnotic was still under the impression that it had the legal right to pay substantially less than the guaranteed compensation of $18,000 if there were fewer than ten girls in the Seaman’s club.

The timing is also uncanny: around this date, Hypnotic has to comply with the court decision of June 27 to provide specific information under forfeiture of penalties for non-compliance. The court decision was served on August 1 and Hypnotic had 14 days to comply. Instead, Richbenzwan was harassed with a request from the labor office – for the first time since Hypnotic took over the management of the Seaman’s Club in October 2010.

The checklist bears the title “checklist of required documentation for business registration.” There are fifteen requirements and the labor office has checked eight of them. Among them are “the address and contact information of the employer” and a copy of a valid residence permit of the director, the managing director or the president. Which one this has to be remains unclear, because none of the checkboxes for these options have been marked.

One week later Carti sends a reminder. He asks about “the status of the required documents” before dropping the real bomb: “Take into account that as long as we have not received these documents we are unable to submit request for dancer and the high season is next month.”

All these moves were obviously designed to put a distance between Hypnotic and its responsibilities towards the management of the Seaman’s Club. Hypnotic also made and effort to convince the court that is was in a deplorable financial situation and that is was unable to meet its financial obligations. Richbenzwan argued to the court that it should not let itself be deceived by Hypnotic through a puppet show. In this context it referred to James Carti’s extensive real estate assets: he has 45,000 square meters of land registered in his name, plus another 2,777 square meters in the name of his JMC Investments & Holding International NV. There is also a proposal by Minister Duncan to terminate the contract in six months time and to pay those six months in full. Based on these circumstances, Richbenzwan argued that Hypnotic was able to pay, but at the same time unwilling.

All these moves still took place before the court ruling of November 13. Four weeks later there was action from an unexpected corner: the Receiver. On December 12, Richbenzwan received no fewer than ten assessments for social premiums, hotel permit fees, and profit, turnover and wage taxes. Eight more assessments arrived on January 4, all with an order to pay either immediately, or within two days. The company was baffled and suspected that someone had inspired the Receiver to spring into action. The total of all assessments together with costs was around 200,000 guilders – approximately $111,700. Because Hypnotic still had not paid most of its outstanding to Richbenzwan, the company was unable to satisfy the Receiver.

It did not take long for the hammer to come down: on January 16 the Receiver placed an executorial third party lien under Hypnotic against Richbenzwan and on the money Hypnotic owes to Richbenzwan.

One day later attorney Peggy Ann Brandon of the law office of Duncan, Brandon and Hoeve, acting for Hypnotic Hotel and Entertainment, sent Richbenzwan a letter about the lien that sounded almost cheerful: “Per attached notification from the bailiff, all payments that are due to Richbenzwan NV shall fall under this attachment; hence no payments will be made by my client directly to your client arising out of the judgment dated November 13, 2012.”

All the circumstances mentioned in this article seem to serve Hypnotic very well: the company claims that, due to the lien, it is unable to pay the judgment to Richbenzwan, while it still acts as the manager of the Seaman’s Club.

What will happen with Richbenzwan and, more importantly, with its precious license for the Seaman’s Club, is at the moment anybody’s guess. But nobody ought to be surprised when that license sooner or later falls into the hands of Justice Minister Roland Duncan, his business partner James Martin Carti and their Hypnotic Hotel and Entertainment venture.

And while this fourth installment about the conflict between Richbenzwan and Hypnotic Hotel and Entertainment is the end of the road for the series we published, the story does not end here. To be continued at an undetermined moment in the future.

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