On New Year’s Eve 2008, Financial Intelligence Unit officials, armed with warrants, collaborated with the Belize Police Department and raided the home of the Coye Family located at #12 Johnson Street. The raid yielded the FIU’s biggest bust as they found sums of cash in different denominations stashed in bags and suitcases. 62-year-old Michael Coye his wife 56-year-old Marlene, and 33-year-old daughter, Melanie Coye were arrested as a result.
After the cash was tallied, it amounted to $1,557,789 in Belize and US currency. A later search at the MoneyGram office, located at the time on Central American Boulevard, led to the seizure of several computers and boxes of documents. As investigations continued, Melanie’s husband, American national James Gerou was charged as well as Jude Coye, Ernest Raymond Jr., Athlee Matute, Dietrich Kingston, and Money Exchange International Limited was implicated. The charge was later withdrawn against Raymond, Jr.
The Prosecution’s main witness was Shawn Oliver. Oliver is the witness, who alerted FIU to irregularities and illegal activities at MoneyGram International. She gave FIU two statements. One statement dated December 29th, 2008 said that she had seen Melanie Coye of MoneyGram International send over $174,000 in US currency to Costa Rica. A second statement which she gave FIU on May 19th, 2009, stated that MoneyGram was using driver’s licenses with people sending money to Belize in false names. In addition to numerous documents presented as evidence, the prosecution presented more than 30 witnesses to testify against the accused individuals, including handwriting experts. However, on Thursday, October 14th, the presiding judge, Justice Adolph Lucas, instructed a jury of nine individuals to pronounce the defendants not guilty because the prosecution did not have a case. In the judge’s summary of the case, he noted that there was prima facie evidence of forgery based on the testimonies in court and documents seized from Money Exchange International’s office. He spoke about the fact that the money cannot be accounted for and that there was evidence of tax evasion. However, Justice Lucas was not convinced that the prosecution proved that the money was proceeds of the license fraud or any other crime and then instructed the jury to set the accused individuals free.
Many questioned why is it that a case with that amount of circumstantial evidence did not make it to a jury. The ruling did not deter the FIU in their fight for justice. On July 21st, 2011 Senior Crown Counsel Antoinette Moore was supported by Tricia Pitts Anderson as the FIU won an appeal of Justice Lucas’ ruling. Court of Appeals Justices Douglas Mendez, Bryan Alleyne and Boyd Carey ordered that Melanie Coye, her father, Michael Coye, two of their employees, Athlee Matute and Dietrich Kingston along with the company, Money International Exchange Limited, stand trial for charges of money laundering.
After three weeks of hearing from attorneys of both sides of the case, the trial went to the jury on Friday, August 3rd, 2012. After more than 3 hours of deliberation, a jury of 9 convicted all defendants with a 7-2 majority verdict. Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin reserved sentencing for Wednesday, August 8th. On Wednesday, Chief Justice Benjamin fined Kingston and Matute $25,000 each for their involvement in the crime. Melonie and Michael Coye were sentenced to 3 years in prison each. Melonie, who is considered the mastermind of the operation, was fined an additional $50,000. Michael Coye was fined an additional $25,000. If Melanie and Michael fail to pay the fines, they will have to serve an additional year in prison. The company was also fined $100,000.