Almost half a million dollars of taxpayers’ money routed through the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) has disappeared with TTFA president and Port of Spain mayor Raymond Tim Kee unable to account for it.
Four hundred thousand dollars, which was the third biggest line item on the budget for the high-profile international friendly between Argentina and Trinidad and Tobago in Buenos Aires on June 4, went missing within two days of a $900,000 disbursement from the Ministry of Tourism, and set off a chain of events that led to a further $1.2 million loss for taxpayers.
The money, according to sources, was demanded by marketing executive Darren Millien, who was handpicked by TTFA general secretary Sheldon Phillips to represent the football body for the excursion.
Millien, according to an audited accounting statement and other related documents in Wired868’s possession, insisted upon two cash payments of $200,000 each from tour operator, Nissi Tours, as a “licensing fee” for the TTFA. The money was hand-delivered by Nissi representative and former 2006 World Cup player David Atiba Charles.
Invoices signed by Millien suggested that the “licensing fee” reached the intended recipients while Charles assured Wired868 that he made the delivery. The former W Connection defender also told Minister of Tourism Gerald Hadeed, in Millien’s presence, that he handed over the supposed licensing fee.
However, Millien, a former SPORTT Company and West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) executive, denied receiving the cash; his signature, he claimed, was forged.
“They said they had receipts I signed for $400,000,” Millien told Wired868. “When we looked at it, it was nothing like my signature. I presented copies of my signature and it was nothing like it.”
Hadeed, who learned of the fraud in an explosive meeting on May 30, has apparently left it for Tim Kee to investigate the missing taxpayers’ money. Wired868 could not reach Hadeed for comment.
It, arguably, is now a case of the TTFA investigating the TTFA over its role in the disappearance of public funds.
Tim Kee did not even inform the TTFA’s executive committee of the con until, six months later, when football officials got wind of the scandal and asked questions at a meeting on 17 November 2014.
According to a source, Tim Kee, who is also the PNM treasurer and a member of two FIFA standing committees, told the TTFA ExCo that the matter was reported to the Fraud Squad and so he was unable to discuss it. He repeated that claim to Wired868.
Remarkably, Millien claimed to have had input in the query that was filed with the Fraud Squad; and, despite evidence to the contrary, said Nissi Tours was the accused.
“We sent copies of (the Nissi Tours) report to the Fraud Squad,” said Millien. “They have to answer questions about the wild allegations of 400,000 in cash.”
However, senior police sources assured Wired868 that no report involving Millien or the TTFA whas ever brought to the attention of the Port of Spain Fraud Squad. Millien, Tim Kee and the TTFA are all based in Port of Spain while the payments were allegedly made in the Hyatt Hotel car park and at MovieTowne in Port of Spain.
Tim Kee promised to send Wired868 a copy of the file sent to the Fraud Squad. But, a day later and up to the time of publishing, he had not done so.
Meanwhile, even as the fraud matter is supposedly being investigated, Millien remains employed by the TTFA on a contract basis. He is, ironically, the face behind the football body’s push to raise money through the TTFA’s FIFA-funded income generation programme.
Tim Kee, who said he had a lot of respect for Millien, tried to explain why the TTFA is paying someone under investigation for fraud to raise money.
“Sheldon hired Darren Millien as he seemed to have had the qualifications to do it and I do not micro-manage,” said the football president, who claimed allegations against Millien were politically motivated. “As a human being, I myself have been subjected to a lot of things that were untrue; so I didn’t want to judge Darren on anything that might not be true.
“But, anytime I catch him, he will be on his own… I’m not taking that kind of blame at this stage of my life.”
Wired868 asked Millien what he brought to the cash-strapped body after almost 18 months as a marketing consultant.
“I was assisting (the TTFA) in its commercial programme,” said Millien. “We made a lot of approaches to commercial sponsors and we are just awaiting feedback from them.”
Millien has found revenue for himself, though. In the last two months, the One 2 One Marketing company, which lists Sherwin Derek Wong and Millien as its directors, received just over $60,000 from the football body.
During that period, the Government stepped in twice with financial rescue packages for the TTFA who had not paid per diems to its national women’s team players or match fees and salaries to the senior men’s team players and coaches.
Phillips has done well for himself too.
While then technical director Anton Corneal and other coaches worked for free, Phillips virtually doubled the housing allowance afforded to previous general secretary Richard Groden as the allowance rose sharply from $11,000 to around $21,000. And, while Groden’s starting salary was $15,000 in 2004, Phillips is understood to pay himself between $23,000 and $24,000.
Tim Kee defended Phillips’ remuneration.
“Sheldon’s allowance was aligned to what was paid to Groden,” said Tim Kee. “Groden was occupying one of (Jack) Warner’s houses and he rented a vehicle for around $19,000 a month. When you look at the combination of both they would come up to the same.”
Wired868 understands that Groden actually received a vehicle allowance of roughly $8,000 per month. Phillips, incidentally, also has a company vehicle.
“(Phillips) went to Lifestyle Motors and worked out an arrangement where it is paid for in kind,” said Tim Kee.
Lifestyle Motors has given the TTFA use of a vehicle, which Phillips drives, but, instead of cash, the company receives benefit by placing banners and billboards at national team games without charge.
Even without adding the cost of the billboards that the TTFA waives so Phillips can have his vehicle, the general secretary’s salary plus allowances is notably higher than his predecessor’s and at a time when the football body complains of being virtually insolvent.
Potentially more lucrative are Phillips’ side interests. He is the owner and sole employee of consultancy firm Element Agency + Events in Columbia, Maryland, which, Wired868 has been told, does marketing and operates as a match agent.
Phillips’ CV features a single reference of note to Element Agency. In 2012, in collaboration with James Grant Sports and the Baltimore Ravens, the firm put on an exhibition match between Liverpool and Tottenham.
In February 2013, three months after Tim Kee became TTFA president, Phillips got his first gig with the local football body when he organised Peru’s trip to Couva for an international friendly.
One London-based match agent, who operates in the Caribbean, explained to Wired868 how they earn their pay.
Agents usually charge a minimum of £5,000 per game plus full affair costs, which means all expenses such as travel costs and match fees. On top of that flat fee, agents usually demand a percentage of gates and television revenue as well.
An agent with a commitment from an international team to arrange a game on a particular day, for instance, can hawk around the world until he or she finds a suitable football association that will pay the most for the match.
Trinidad and Tobago is a more attractive proposition to match agents than one might think. It is one of the few international teams that generally has all its “affair costs” paid for by its government.
So, in theory, a match agent could charge the Romania or Saudi Arabia FAs for the cost of airline tickets and match fees for the Trinidad and Tobago team and then pocket that money once the trip is written off by the Ministry of Sport while still benefitting from a booking fee and cut of the gates and television rights.
Under Tim Kee, the “Soca Warriors” have played 12 international friendless and nine of them were abroad against Argentina, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Peru, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Estonia, Peru, Belize and Jamaica. Audited statements were not provided to the TTFA executive or the Government for any of those matches.
When Phillips became the TTFA’s general secretary, in May 2013, he told Wired868 that he would no longer run Element Agency owing to an obvious conflict of interest.
Yesterday, Phillips denied that he was using his position at the TTFA to earn substantial fees as a match agent. He claimed to have an affidavit from the Romanian agent involved in the friendly clash between the two nations in 2013, which states that Phillips “was never given or asked for a fee.”
“As general secretary, I cannot act as an agent,” said Phillips. “When I started to hear this claim, I wanted to quell it and that is why I got that affidavit from the gentleman.”
He did not explain why he felt a statement from a fellow agent cleared him.
Wired868 also received emails that showed Phillips used his Element Agency account to conduct much of the TTFA’s business for the Argentina tour while, in others, he used his TTFA or Gmail accounts.
Phillips insisted his use of his Element Agency account, while sorting out details for international football matches, was an honest mistake. While Tim Kee said he advised his general secretary to stick to Gmail—rather than his TTFA address.
“I have a glitch in my email where sometimes emails that go out go out with my Element address,” Phillips told Wired868. “I’ve tried to fix it and even disabled the address but emails still go out. I have to get that fixed.
“Element has never been a part of anything since I got involved in the TTFA.”
So, who put on the Trinidad and Tobago/Argentina friendly?
“That would be World Eleven,” said Phillips.
Renowned London-based Argentinean journalist Marcela Mora y Araujo, whose freelance employers include the UK Guardian and Telegraph and the US-based Sport Illustrated, was working in Buenos Aires at the time of the match and she gave a different story.
“I was told by World Eleven that the game was not organised by them,” said Mora y Araujo, “but rather by the AFA directly.”
Millien is no stranger to controversy either. In 2005, the then WICB Chief Marketing Officer was among several officials grilled by a three-member committee over the Board’s controversial contract with Digicel behind the backs of its then sponsor, Cable & Wireless, and amidst rumours of illicit kickbacks.
The committee, which was chaired by Trinidadian Justice Anthony Lucky and included Antiguan chartered accountants Avondale Thomas and Gregory Georges, ruled that the Digicel contract was legally flawed and null and void.
Millien also appeared before a Parliamentary committee during the last PNM administration to answer questions on the controversial $2 million flag, which haunted previous Sport Minister Gary Hunt.
As soon as the Ministry of Tourism agreed to partner with the TTFA, Phillips introduced Millien to the tour operators for the event.
“Darren has been my go to guy for the tour arrangements,” said Phillips, via one email. “The ministry confirmed everything so he should be contacting you…”
Then Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism, Juliana Boodram, had little knowledge of football but saw the benefits of a high-profile match with an estimated broadcast audience of 300 million. The $2.1 million cost of taking the Warriors to Argentina was also cheaper than a booth at either of the world trade shows in London or Berlin.
Boodram’s job was to liaise with Phillips and Millien to ensure the event went smoothly and the public purse was protected.
What followed was a tour she would never forget.
Editor’s Note: In Part Two, Tourism Minister Gerald Hadeed warns public about TTFA rep and ex-WICB official Darren Millien and promises police report; Wired868 follows up on TTFA $.4 million licensing fee con. Click HERE to read.