The recent legal battle involving Cornerstone United Holdings Jamaica and its boss, Paul Simpson, has taken a new twist with the emergence of evidence from a nurse who claims to have witnessed the mental deterioration of Rita Humphries-Lewin, an 87-year-old businesswoman at the center of the dispute. The nurse, who led Humphries-Lewin’s homecare, alleges that Simpson had ample opportunity to see her decline as he often visited her unattended.
This revelation brings into question the assertions made by Sonia Owens, a long-time associate of Humphries-Lewin and an executive at Barita, a subsidiary of Cornerstone. Owens has claimed that she was unaware of Humphries-Lewin’s dementia diagnosis when she recommended transactions worth over $2 billion in September 2021.
The nurse’s affidavit, filed in court on September 13, states that it was evident to her that Owens knew about Humphries-Lewin’s memory challenges, speech difficulties, and overall lack of understanding of her surroundings. According to the nurse, Owens’ questions and interactions with Humphries-Lewin during her visits indicated that she was well aware of her condition.
Simpson, along with Cornerstone and its Chief Investment Officer Jason Chambers, filed an application in May to have the disputed deals declared legal after accusations by Humphries-Lewin’s niece, Deborah Mordecai Edwards, of deception, coercion, and fraud. Edwards claims that Cornerstone knew about her aunt’s dementia and that she did not receive independent legal advice.
Simpson, Chambers, and Owens have vehemently denied these allegations, stating that there were no signs of Humphries-Lewin’s deteriorating mental health during the period when the deals were negotiated. They argue that Humphries-Lewin appeared perfectly healthy and capable of making decisions from April to September 2021.
However, the nurse’s account contradicts the claims made by Simpson and Owens. She notes that Simpson and Owens visited the house frequently, with Simpson even speaking with Humphries-Lewin alone on occasions when her husband, Karl, was not present. The nurse contends that Simpson had ample opportunity to witness the decline in Humphries-Lewin’s mental state during these visits and interactions with her and her husband.
The nurse, who provided round-the-clock care for Humphries-Lewin from October 2019 to December 2021, observed a series of symptoms consistent with dementia. These included confusion, anxiety, exhaustion, problems with memory, and difficulties in holding a conversation. According to the nurse, these symptoms worsened over time.
The nurse also mentions a birthday party for Humphries-Lewin, during which the change in her mental condition was apparent to all attendees. She emphasizes that it would have been challenging for anyone who knew Humphries-Lewin before December 2019 to miss the signs of her mental deterioration.
Karl, Humphries-Lewin’s husband, who heads a court-approved committee managing her affairs, claims that his wife was not mentally competent to negotiate the disputed transactions. While he participated in some talks and witnessed some documents, it remains unclear whether he informed Cornerstone of the dementia diagnosis in 2019.
The committee overseeing Humphries-Lewin’s affairs has asked the court to reverse the deals, while Mordecai Edwards, Humphries-Lewin’s niece and chairman of BPM Financial Limited, alleges that Cornerstone took advantage of her aunt’s condition by selling shares to her at a higher price than to other investors. Cornerstone denies these allegations, arguing that the lower price was offered in a separate and unrelated transaction.
An investigation by Jamaica’s financial crimes agency, the Financial Investigations Division, found some merit to Mordecai Edwards’ claim but has not reached a conclusion on its validity or potential criminal charges.
The first hearing of the Cornerstone application is scheduled for October 2. As the legal battle continues, the emergence of the nurse’s evidence provides a new perspective on Humphries-Lewin’s mental health and raises questions about the knowledge and actions of Cornerstone and its senior executives.