“(Darren) Millien is a person that no one should have any business association with,” Tourism Minister Gerald Hadeed told Wired868. “The fellah is an absolute f***ing crook! That fellah is a scamp… I don’t know how (the TTFA) hired him.”
Tourism Minister Gerald Hadeed is renowned for speaking bluntly; and he was not about to deviate from that habit when Wired868 enquired about the Trinidad and Tobago national football team’s excursion to Buenos Aires in June to face a Lionel Messi-led Argentina team.
The Ministry of Tourism bankrolled the affair with an initial budget of $2.1 million. But $400,000 went missing and it caused a default on the payment for a chartered plane. The end result was an additional $1.2 million bill for taxpayers so the Government could book Caribbean Airlines (CAL) to complete the job.
Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) general secretary Sheldon Phillips and marketing official Darren Millien, both employees of football president Raymond Tim Kee, were fingered by Hadeed in the disappearance of taxpayers’ money. (Read Part One for more on both men and their roles within local football).
But let us start closer to the beginning. The TTFA contacted the Tourism Ministry for financial assistance in taking the “Soca Warriors” to Buenos Aires for a high-profile exhibition game on June 4, which was a week before the Brazil 2014 World Cup.
The game would supposedly be beamed into 300 million homes and, at $2.1 million, the Tour Minister felt it represented excellent value for Trinidad and Tobago’s money.
“We are the last in the chain of islands when you are coming from North America or Europe,” said Hadeed, “so it takes more money to come to us than to go any other island. But we are the first and the cheapest destination if you are coming from South America…
“Do you know that 60 percent of our LNG goes to South America now? Our market is expanding in Central and South America. So our tourism program is gearing towards Central and South America.”
A chance for Trinidad and Tobago to share advertising space with Argentine superstar and the finest player of his generation, Messi, seemed a mouth watering opportunity. And Hadeed instructed his then Permanent Secretary Juliana Boodram to make it happen.
Due to administrative and bureaucratic issues, the Tourism Minister opted against dealing directly with a booking agency. Instead, the TTFA served as a middle-man between the Government and the football body’s primary tour operator, Nissi Tours.
Millien was not involved in the initial negotiations with the Tourism Ministry but was inserted by Phillips once the Governments funds were approved.
“Darren (Millien) has been my go to guy for the tour arrangements,” Phillips told the tour operator, via one email. “The ministry confirmed everything so he should be contacting you…”
The Government’s disbursement was split into three tranches. Tranche One, in the sum of $900,000, was made by the Government on May 14 and immediately forwarded to the account of Nissi Tours. It did not stay there long, though.
Even before the payment, Millien, according to an informed source, informed the travel company that it should immediately give $400,000 in cash from this figure to the TTFA, payable in two parts on May 14 and 15. Wired868 was shown the corresponding What’s App messages as evidence of the conversation.
The payment, according to the messages, was described as a “licensing fee… for permission to use the logo of the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association.” Millien, according to the source, claimed he wanted it in cash so it could be immediately used to facilitate different payments.
Tim Kee was very sceptical of Nissi Tours’ claim.
“When I heard that $400,000 was paid to an individual in cash; that threw up a red flag for me,” Tim Kee told Wired868. “I felt that allegation was rather irregular.”
In fact, cash payments in brown envelopes were a regular feature of Jack Warner’s tenure in football; and Tim Kee served as Warner’s vice-president for nearly two decades.
Wired868 can confirm that Tim Kee’s own employee, Phillips, paid over a dozen Trinidad and Tobago national senior team women’s footballers almost US$3,000 each in brown envelopes, just before they boarded a flight for Mexico City on October 30 at the Piarco International Airport.
Nissi Tours representative David Atiba Charles, a World Cup 2006 defender, was paid countless times in cash by the TTFA during his international careers.
Still, Charles admitted he was nervous when he collected $200,000 in a big, brown envelope from a bank branch in Marabella, on May 14, and headed to Port of Spain to meet Millien. He said Millien asked him to come to the Hyatt—rather than at the TTFA headquarters—and, once there, instructed him to meet him in the car park.
Charles claimed Millien said he did not want to sign for the money and suggested Phillips would do so later. But when Charles insisted that he needed a signature for his own protection, the TTFA representative obliged with a carefree swish of his pen.
Knowing Millien was the TTFA’s agent, Charles felt he did not need to check the signature against the marketing man’s ID card or driver’s license.
The next day, as Charles prepared for his second delivery, Millien allegedly said he was at the TTFA’s office. Rather than meet there, he told Charles to take the money to MovieTowne and wait outside the Ruby Tuesday restaurant.
Charles stood on the pavement when Millien drove up in a black Mercedes. He never got out. Millien instructed the Nissi rep to toss the envelope in the back seat and, remaining at the wheel, he signed for receipt and drove off.
When Charles returned to the Nissi office with the invoice, he realised the first and second signatures were different and said so to his fellow directors; none of them knew what to make of it.
Millien described Charles’ story as a wild and ridiculous accusation.
“I told them to provide proof,” Millien told Wired868. “They said they had receipts showing that I signed for $400,000. But when we looked at it, it was nothing like my signature.
“I presented copies of my signature and it was nothing like it.”
Tim Kee was satisfied with Millien’s defence.
“I am not a handwriting expert,” said Tim Kee, “but it was very clear that the signatures were very different.”
Are two separate signatures by the same thief—both wildly differing from the real thing and each other—the sign of a bad forger? Or was it an indication of someone trying too hard to make it look like bad forgery?
The $900,000 payment was supposed to go towards the chartered airline, which cost $1.2 million. And, on May 16, the Ministry of Tourism released a second payment of $700,000, which should have completed the charter booking and most of the hotel costs for the “Soca Warriors” and guests.
The cost of accommodation at Plaza Hotel came up to $500,773 in all.
The final payment of $500,000 was due in just over a week to cover ground transport and other expenses in Buenos Aires. The Ministry of Sport had already spent $700,000 on a training camp for the “Soca Warriors.”
But Boodram was abroad when the third agreed payment was due from the Government on May 26. She assumed that the major expenses for the trip had been sorted and, despite protests from Millien, she insisted that the TTFA could wait until her return on May 28.
But the TTFA had not met its financial obligations and had run out of Government money. The tour was in jeopardy if the football body could not find $300,000 in time.
Phillips and Millien had $352,000 from fans who paid to attend the Argentina game and they could have used that to make the $300,000 payment for the plane.
But whether the duo had suddenly become paralysed by protocol; or they wanted to teach Boodram a lesson for her stubbornness and apparent criticism of their efforts to sell tour packages, Phillips and Millien did not make the payment from cash in hand and forced Nissi to lose the charter with $780,000 already paid and in limbo. The decision cost taxpayers over a million dollars.
Subsequent events suggest it might have been a disastrous bluff from Phillips and Millien and one that could have far-reaching effects for the football body.
On May 30, Hadeed turned white when he was informed that the TTFA had lost its chartered plane due to a “default payment”; and he immediately summoned the TTFA and Nissi Tours to an emergency meeting.
Apart from Hadeed and his Permanent Secretary, Tim Kee, Phillips, Millien, TTFA marketing official Kyle Lequay, Nissi Tours director Cavelle George and Tourism Ministry representative Gina Welsh were identified in the secret recording that was leaked to Wired868.
“What default payment?!” Hadeed asked Phillips. “My Permanent Secretary said $1.5 million (sic) was handed over not this Thursday (but) the Thursday before and the cost at that time for the airplane was 1.2 million…”
Boodram was incredulous as she told the Minister that somehow, despite their allocations plus the tickets sold, the TTFA claimed to be short of the money needed for the charter.
“I was informed by Mr Millien that if we did not pay $300,000, the charter could be cancelled,” said Boodram. “I told Mr Millien that we had already paid $1.6 million and I could not believe that a charter would be cancelled after this amount of money was already issued…
“I felt the TTFA should have sufficient money to cover all costs.”
Millien interjected to say that some of the various parties in Argentina needed up-front payments and some money was used for that.
“The payment is not just for a plane,” he explained, “it is for a host of services.”
“But at that point you had $1.6 million…” Boodram retorted.
“She does not understand,” said Millien. And he and fellow TTFA marketing official Kyle Lequay giggled.
“You should have paid it from your money,” advised Boodram.
“From what?” asked Millien. “The Association is broke.”
Welch pointed out the TTFA had over $350,000 from the sale of tour packages that it could have used instead of scrapping the entire operation.
“We were told we could not touch that money,” said Millien. “It was included in the contract.”
“We couldn’t touch it,” said Phillips, who might have felt the elected officials had more to lose in that unravelling scenario.
“The TTFA needed $300,000 for this operation (and) I said the PS is off the island and would be coming in on Monday and you will be paid then,” said Hadeed. “Now if you had to intimated to me that you had 300,000 in cash, I would have given you the authority to go ahead and use the money.
“But nobody didn’t say anything like that; nobody.”
“Because we were under strict instructions not to touch it,” said Millien. “It was even in the contract.”
“Brother, if you needed the damn money and you had 300 (thousand) in hand,” replied the Minister, “wouldn’t it have been better to just to ask permission to take the money and use it?!”
“Sir, I would have asked that,” said Millien, “if i wasn’t given strict instructions before.”
“This has got to be the greatest embarrassment I have ever faced,” said Hadeed.
Boodram is even more emotional.
“You see this what has happened?” she asked, rhetorically. “You all don’t know what you have done to me. I have never felt like this in my life and I will never feel like this in my life again.
“Because I am never going to have dealings with anyone here again.”
The TTFA contingent ignored her.
“We have to find some way to get this team to Argentina,” said Phillips, “and I think that is where we should be focusing our energy.”
The meeting subsequently decided that there were three options available: a new chartered airline, a deal with Caribbean Airlines (which was initially considered too expensive) or splitting the Warriors into three travel parties and sending them on commercial flights to Argentina while reimbursing the public.
Phillips said he preferred the CAL option although it would have to be arranged “Minister to Minister.” Tim Kee agreed.
“I have all kind of options but who’s paying?!” asked Hadeed. “The question is who’s paying?! 1.6 million’s gone already!”
Hadeed decided he wanted to hear a more detailed breakdown of the spending for the Argentina trip, which George provided. He stopped her at the mention of a $400,000 payment to the TTFA for a licensing fee.
“Licensing fee?” asked Hadeed. “What is that?”
Although it was the third largest line item of the entire budget statement, apparently no one from the TTFA could provide an answer.
Hadeed asked Millien, who was seated right beside Charles, if he received any such payment. Millien said it was news to him; but George insisted.
Hadeed asked Charles if he had given that money to Millien.
“Yes,” Charles said.
Millien immediately said he wanted to speak to his lawyer. Pandemonium followed.
“I will get to the bottom of this!” Hadeed thundered.
While their marketing official spoke to someone on his mobile, Tim Kee and Phillips approached the Nissi contingent.
“Darren did that?!” asked Phillips, while shaking his head from side to side to suggest disbelief. “Nooooo!”
“Do you have his signature?” enquired Tim Kee. “Were there any video cameras?”
According to Charles’ testimony, Millien was allegedly very careful to avoid cameras.
Wired868 contacted MovieTowne owner Derek Chin about video footage for the area. He said that, as standard procedure, tapes are erased within two months once no incident has been reported.
All that remained, apparently, was an audited statement from Nissi Tours, Charles’ witness statement, two irregular signatures and several What’s App messages.
Within 24 hours of the explosive meeting in the Ministry of Tourism, Millien boarded a plane for Miami where he allegedly stayed for weeks.
Hadeed said he, in tandem with Tim Kee, immediately launched an investigation into the matter.
“We got statements from (Cavelle George) and my permanent secretary and I know Mr Tim Kee immediately cut the fellah’s throat and gave the matter to the police to investigate for fraud,” said Hadeed. “So the police has the matter. I am giving you the facts…”
Hadeed gave further details of his own investigation.
“What really happened is this fellah, Mr Millien, (allegedly) prepared documentation for the travel agent in San Fernando,” said Hadeed, “which he forged saying the federation needed to have $400,000 for the rights to use its name.
“So the poor lady, who didn’t know any better, gave him the money. So he lied.”
As suggested by Phillips and Tim Kee, the Minister of Tourism chartered a CAL plane to ensure that the game came off although, Wired868 understands, CAL’s $1.2 million bill remains unpaid.
In Buenos Aires, Boodram did little to hide her feelings towards Tim Kee and Phillips. In a June 3 email, she threatened to report the football executives to Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar for breach of contract.
“Dear Mayor and Sheldon, I have retrieved the email thread which categorically states that the TTFA would receive and give us a block of Category 1 tickets,” she wrote. “If I do not get the tickets by 6 pm today, I will inform fans that (the) TTFA has not lived up to their end of our agreement… and I would escalate this matter to the PM.
“We were told that tickets would have been given to (the) TTFA. Please let me know when to collect the tickets.”
Phillips replied by trying to shift the blame.
“Dear PS. Have you established with Cavelle the amount of tickets she will have to purchase tomorrow?” asked Phillips. “I have made arrangements with AFA to have someone in place at their office who Cavelle can see to purchase the tickets…
“To ensure the football fans who have paid for the package are taken care of, should Nissi fail to follow through on their obligation to provide the match tickets to package holders, the TTFA is prepared to provide tickets to those paying fans from our allotment.”
Boodram’s response, also copied to Tim Kee, was blunt.
“Dear Sheldon and Cavelle, at this point in time it really doesn’t matter how we get tickets to the fans,” said Boodram. “You two can work that out. Whether it comes from the $400k that you will recover from thieving crook Darren who represented you and TTFA or from whichever source, at this time I am not concerned.
“Just have 130 tickets to fans who came here primarily to see the football game.”
The Permanent Secretary also warned Tim Kee and Phillips that she wanted a breakdown of their use of state funding as soon as they returned to Trinidad.
“Sheldon, when we return to Trinidad, I will formally request from TTFA a breakdown of how our funds were to be allocated and how they were actually allocated,” said Boodram. “… I am sure neither of you want this scandal on your hands. It really doesn’t matter to me. I am here to promote Trinidad and Tobago.
“Sheldon, you decide if you want the Trinidad public to continue to support football and TTFA. I expect us to have all tickets in hand by tomorrow at 11 am.”
Tim Kee, who is also the PNM treasurer, did not respond in writing; but Phillips’ next email, on the morning of the match, suggested he was keen to stifle any potential scandal. The response referred to his most illustrious title.
“Dear PS and Ms George, pursuant to the ongoing issue connected to tickets for tonight’s match, Mayor Tim Kee requests your presence for a meeting at 11.30 am today,” wrote Phillips. “Please meet us at the Etoile Hotel lobby… Thank you, Sheldon.”
Nissi Tours did get the travellers their match tickets but from a different source and at a quarter of the US$65 price quoted by Phillips.
On their return to Trinidad, though, Boodram landed in hot water with Head of the Public Service, Reynold Cooper, for her failure to get the necessary approval for the trip. And she was transferred to the Office of the Prime Minister.
And what about Millien?
The Minister said he hopes Millien is made to answer for the missing money.
“This Millien is the same fellah who was working with Hunt and put up the $2 million flag,” said Hadeed, who claimed to be unaware of Millien’s present location. “And the fellah took the money and he disappeared out of Trinidad to Miami and absconded to Miami. I have never heard about him again.
“For me, they should lay a charge of fraud against the man and get Interpol to charge him… I am surprised (this story) only now surface.”
But, if Tim Kee promised to lay fraud charges against Millien, he did not keep his word.
Tim Kee told the TV6 Morning Show that he instructed Phillips, the person who worked in tandem with Millien, to handle the police report. And, remarkably, Millien helped.
The police could find no report of fraud laid against Millien or the TTFA. Instead, the football body claimed to file a fraud matter against Nissi Tours almost three months after the May 30 showdown at the Tourism Ministry.
“We were asking hard questions of (Nissi Tours) and they only thing they could come up with was they paid me $400,000 in cash,” said Millien. “We sent the report to the Fraud Squad. They have to answer questions about the wild allegations of $400,000 in cash.”
Wired868 has a copy of a letter sent by Phillips to Nissi Tours on May 27, around the time that Millien said the TTFA was asking hard questions of the travel company.
On a TTFA letterhead, Phillips offered Nissi Tours a lucrative four-year partnership and promised to use the company for supposed upcoming international friendlies against Saudi Arabia and Brazil as well as for the Caribbean Cup and Gold Cup tournaments.
“We are prepared to establish a multi-year partnership where years 2014-2018 will require need for charter service,” stated Phillips. “The TTFA “Beyond the Pitch” strategy is an approach embraced by the Ministry of Tourism to utilize football, particularly senior men’s national team matches, as a vehicle to highlight and promote Brand T&T…
“Thank you for joining our commercial family and we look forward to developing this most important element of our commercial strategy.”
Hadeed’s opinion is that Phillips and Millien are working together and Trinidad and Tobago would be better without them.
“To be honest, you shouldn’t be looking at Mr Tim Kee,” said Hadeed, “you should be looking at the General Secretary and Mr Millien.”
But Tim Kee kept both employees; and he defended them to Wired868 and, again, on the TV6 Morning Show.
Tim Kee blamed Boodram for the default on the charter and dismissed the Permanent Secretary’s insinuation that Millien was crooked.
“I know she said that; but I also heard of things said about her from other Permanent Secretaries,” said Tim Kee. “So, I felt (the accusation against Millien) didn’t hold water because of the person making the allegation. The priest is making allegation but the priest interfering with children.
“That same individual caused us to lose an airline to whom money was paid because she is the one who did not pay on the deadline as requested. She was defending a position that was indefensible and trying to blame everyone else for her faux pas.”
He described Millien as someone he knew and respected for a long time.
At present, Millien is in charge of the TTFA’s FIFA-funded income generation programme while he is also entrusted with the job of raising funds from corporate Trinidad and Tobago. Millien’s One 2 One Marketing company received just over $60,000 from the cash-strapped TTFA for services rendered over the last two months while Phillips’ salary, including housing allowance, is around $45,000 per month exclusive of a company car.
“Sheldon hired Darren Millien as he seemed to have had the qualifications to do (the job) and I do not micro-manage,” said the football president. “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.”
Hadeed claimed to be stunned when Wired868 informed him that Millien was not only back in Trinidad but also a paid employee of the TTFA. Tim Kee, according to a source, also falsely informed the TTFA executive committee on November 17 that he cut ties with the controversial marketing man.
“He’s there still?!” asked Hadeed. “You’re telling me they still paying that fellah?! The fellah is an absolute scamp.”
The Minister told Wired868 that he would look into the supposed report to the Fraud Squad straightaway and wanted action taken over the matter.
“I am not stopping until the police lay charges,” said Hadeed. “We as ministers have to stand up and answer questions in Parliament and sometimes these things are not in our hands and make us look bad.
“We’re trying to help the country and promote our brand; to play Argentina just before the World Cup with Messi playing was such a wonderful opportunity for Trinidad and Tobago… We got real promotion for that game and we had a little carnival show and tassa and what not that was seen in millions of homes…”
The trip was Hadeed’s final project with Boodram and, without being asked about his Permanent Secretary, he wished her well.
“Boodram was a lady who had Trinidad and Tobago at heart,” he said. “Whatever anyone has to say; (and) although she might be unorthodox.”
He did not feel the same way about Phillips and Millien.
“I don’t understand how people can do that to their country,” he said.
If the TTFA’s controversial “licensing fee” is not already before the Fraud Squad, Hadeed promised it will be soon.
Editor’s Note: (Part One) TTFA marketing official Darren Millien fingered in financial scandal involving T&T’s friendly against Argentina; general secretary Sheldon Phillips’ denies role as match agent while president Raymond Tim Kee defends both men. Click HERE to read.