Extortion probe: Businessman charged for conspiracy to commit a felony
…wanted bulletin issued for Rickford Burke
Dorwain Bess, a 45-year-old businessman of Bel Air Park, Georgetown, was on Thursday charged for conspiracy to commit a felony, contrary to Section 33 of the Criminal Law (Offences) Act, Chapter 8:01.
Bess appeared before Magistrate Fabayo Azore at the Vigilance Magistrate’s Court, where two charges were read to him and he pleaded not guilty. He has been placed on bail in the sum of $100,000 on each of the charges, and conditions attached to his bail stipulate that he lodge his passport and report to the Police every Friday, starting from September 30. The matter has been adjourned to November 1 for report.
On September 26, a wanted bulletin was issued for the businessman in relation to a Police investigation into the publication of a defamatory publication in an effort to extort.
The businessman was implicated by Alex Wayne and Gary Eleazar, the two reporters who were arrested during a sting operation by Police as these reporters allegedly attempted to extort $1 million from an auto dealer.
Police, in a statement, said investigators conducted video and audio interviews with Eleazar on Sunday. According to Police, during the interview, Eleazar claimed that he was contacted by Bess, who told him that a businessman was evading taxes on imported vehicles, and he subsequently wrote the article and sent same to Bess.
“Eleazar said Bess sent the article to Rickford Burke, where several paragraphs were added, and posted it on the Guyana News Network Facebook page and website. Notably, Eleazar also said that he had access to the GNN website for over a year, and was given the website’s password and username by Rickford Burke to manage the website, and he subsequently uploaded about five articles to the site,” the Police statement read.
Additionally, Police said Eleazar claimed that he had also sent other articles targeting other persons to Bess and to Burke, who would then post the said articles to the GNN’s website and Facebook page.
“In particular, he said that Dorwain Bess told him that the article in question was to threaten the businessman because of $100,000,000 that he had lost while they were in business,” Police said in the statement.
As the Police intensify their probe into attempts to extort a whopping $90 million from the local auto dealer, Eleazar and Wayne remain in custody.
It was revealed on Saturday that two reporters – Wayne, 49, of Huntley Village, Mahaicony, East Coast Demerara; and Eleazar, 41, of Da Silva Street, Newtown, Kitty, Georgetown – were arrested after they were caught during a sting operation extorting money from an auto dealer in exchange for the removal of a “libellous” article from a social media platform.
The article was published on the Facebook page of Guyana News Network (GNN), which purports to be a “news agency”, with the auto dealer’s photograph and an allegation that he is involved in illegal activities – something which the dealer said is untrue and has caused him to be “embarrassed” and his “reputation to be tarnished”.
The site is said to be operated by an overseas-based political activist.
A source close to the investigation told this publication on Sunday that the Police have since obtained voice recordings of the political activist, who has ties to the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) party, and the Guyanese businessman, both demanding $90 million from the local auto dealer in order to remove the article published about him.
In addition, the source also revealed to this publication that Eleazar, who has access to the social media page, and Wayne approached the auto dealer separately and requested $10 million instead to remove the article from social media.
It was at this point that the auto dealer went to the Police on August 29 and filed a report about the extortion. This resulted in the Police setting up the sting operation to catch the two journalists, who are reportedly close associates of the overseas-based businessman.
The intelligence-led operation was conducted on the East Coast of Demerara at some time between 15:40h and 16:35h on Friday. During the sting operation, both Wayne and Eleazar went to the businessman to extort cash.
The two reporters were seen arriving at the location and going to the businessman. The trio engaged in conversation, during which Wayne and Eleazar demanded $1 million in order to remove the post from the GNN Facebook page.
Wayne then took out his computer and handed same over to Eleazar, who went to the website and attempted to remove the post, but then claimed that the password of which he was in possession was, for some reason, not working at the time.
As a result, the $1 million was handed over to the two journalists as a down payment, in keeping with their demands. The duo collected the money and indicated to the businessman that they would return sometime after to remove the post and collect the outstanding money.
However, as Wayne and Eleazar were about to leave, they were intercepted by the Police and told of the allegation. The officers then conducted a search, during which a portion of the money was found on Eleazar, while some was found on Wayne.
Additionally, two cellular phones and a laptop were immediately seized from the duo.
On Thursday evening, Police issued a wanted bulletin for New York-based Guyanese Rickford Burke. The bulletin stated that Burke is wanted by the Police in Guyana for questioning in relation to conspiracy to commit a felony; to wit, publication of defamatory libel in order to extort money.
His address is listed as Brooklyn, New York and Bartica, Region Seven (Cuyuni-Mazaruni).