Mag­is­trate in har­mony with fake choir’s cho­rus for clemency

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS -

“choir mem­bers” to per­form in shows abroad. The man would sub­mit ap­pli­ca­tions for the visas, but once in the US, the ap­pli­cants would stay.

Af­ter an in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the US con­sulate dis­cov­ered that the man used an agency, owned by a woman iden­ti­fied as Glo­ria Wil­liams, to col­lect money from ap­pli­cants, who were in­structed to go for in­ter­views at the con­sulate. It was at th­ese in­ter­views at the West­lake US con­sulate on Tues­day that the group was ar­rested.

They pleaded guilty to fraud on Thurs­day, and re­turned to court yes­ter­day for sen­tenc­ing.

The seven women and one man are from Joburg, Pre­to­ria and KwaZulu-Na­tal.

An­other two women, both from Cape Town, did not plead guilty and are due in court again next month. They have been re­leased on R500 bail each.

In court yes­ter­day, it emerged that the group re­gret­ted what they had done. Their in­ten­tion had been to start new lives abroad. Their at­tor­ney told the court they were vic­tims of a scam per­pe­trated by “big­ger fish”.

The court heard that the group had paid the price for their ac­tions through the hu­mil­i­a­tion of be­ing ex­posed in the me­dia, the fact that they were held at Pollsmoor Prison for three days, their le­gal costs, as well as pay­ment to the agency.

The amounts ranged from R9 000 to R16 000.

In ad­di­tion, many had re­signed from their jobs.

How­ever, while prose­cu­tor Therv­abash­nie Naidoo said she felt sym­pa­thy for them, she was not per­suaded by their at­tor­ney’s ar­gu­ments.

She told the court the con­se­quences were “of their own mak­ing” and that they knew it was a scam.

She added that the group had abused the op­por­tu­nity that the US govern­ment has given to South Africans to go abroad, and that their ac­tions had reper­cus­sions for law- abid­ing cit­i­zens who wanted to travel. Naidoo also ques­tioned whether their re­morse was gen­uine.

Mag­is­trate Ma­han­jana said he was mind­ful of the se­ri­ous­ness of the of­fence but that he had taken into ac­count their per­sonal cir­cum­stances, and that their guilty pleas in­di­cated re­morse.

He fined them R3 000 each, sus­pended for three years on con­di­tion they were not con­victed of sim­i­lar crimes dur­ing that pe­riod.

Those sen­tenced yes­ter­day were Vuyelwa Nkontsa, Yvonne Dlamini, Su­san Ma­hapa, Khayelinhle Sosibo, Nkuthula Dlamini, Nomthandazo Ty­atya, Bianca Maz­ibuko and Rit­tan Shandu.

The case against Sa­man­tha Solomons and Sa­man­tha Davies, both from Cape Town, was post­poned to Au­gust 23.

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