“All we want is our money back!”
This is the plea from a group of irate members of the meeting turn savings scheme organised by Alicia Francis, who say despite their commitment to the arrangement over several years, Francis has been ‘dodging’ them when it comes to paying them the money they have been owed ever since July this year, which according to them adds up to over $500,000.
One member, Keisha, told Barbados TODAY, “Our meeting started on March 8, we were told it was for one year, and the payout money we were told for what we were throwing was $10,000. We took our money faithfully every week, Alicia would pick it up or we would drop it off at her home. In July a friend of hers called and said the meeting was facing some challenges. When I spoke to Alicia, she said two people owed money and had the meeting in trouble. I suggested to her that if she could not pay anyone the full amount, she could pay out half, then pay the other half once things improved.”
She explained: “Alicia agreed to that, and she sent me a list of names of people to call who she said owed her. I called them, and one day she came to me with payments from two of those people and said she would collect money from the third person later that day. But for whatever reason, she has been blocking some of us from her phone.”
Another member, Nikita, said the meeting turn coordinator sometimes appeared depressed and disoriented when she went to see her to ask about her funds.
“In May I went by Alicia to pay my meeting. When I got there she was in her bedroom, she looked disoriented and she was crying. She said one of the members, who she drives around with as she goes to collect money, owed her $60,000 and she wanted him to pay it because it has her “offset”. She said he told her he was going for a loan for that amount that would come through in two weeks and when it did, she would get the money to put it back on track. I did not pay it any mind after that because I figured she would get it sorted out.”
Nikita said, “I was paying in $2,000 a week, and one week in May I was short by $240, and she sent several nasty texts and messages to my phone because of that. I mustered up the funds and paid her, but then when my turn was due in July, I was owed $10,000 and when she came to me, she only gave me $3,000. That put me in a bind, and when I went to her house a few days later, I went on the road with her as she was collecting money from another member, and later that week I got $3,000 more.”
“The following week I had a $5,000 turn, so I let her deduct my weekly from it so she could just give me the balance. I told Alicia I could not go through another week as I had to travel, and at that point I got the remainder of my money. My uncle, my cousin and his wife also got theirs at that time and they were owed $10,000 as well.”
Nikita said she suggested that Alicia put up the names of the people who owed her on social media and the amount of weeks they had not paid to make an effort to collect the outstanding funds. She said Alicia told another section of the press she was willing to do that, but so far she had not reached out to any of the members of the savings plan. In fact, no one has seen her, nor has she been answering her phone.
When asked whether they had reported the matter to the police, Keisha said, “Several of our members have reported her to police stations in the areas where they live, and [the police] have lists of people to whom she owes money.” Keisha added that while Alicia said she herself had gone to the police, the officers she spoke to have no record of her ever having done so.
One of the members said, “We realise that when people threaten her, she pays them their money, but we don’t want to take any extreme measures lest we end up in trouble with the law. We just want to know what is happening with our money; we can live with an arrangement where she can give people back their money over time.”
Efforts to reach Alicia Francis this evening were unsuccessful .
However, in a previous interview Francis denied benefitting from the money.
“I just want you all to know that I have never dipped my hand into your money. I didn’t change my car from a Swift to a jeep out of anyone’s money. In the 19 years I ran this meeting I never touch this meeting money to do my own thing.
“I know how you all feel. I feel bad. I went into a shell, but I did not steal anyone’s money or give any money to anybody. The meeting ran into difficulty, but when I should have taken charge of it, I went into a shell when the first social media posts came out talking about where I live, and people even put up my cell number and landline number.” Francis added that at one time her phone was out of order, but she was driving around reassuring people that the meeting was still up and running.
She also pleaded with the defaulters to pay her what they owed, and apologised for her delays in paying the people whose turns were due.
“In order for me to go forward with the meeting turn like I did for 19 years, I would like the people – you all know who you all are – that got turns, that are not willing to pay back, I am begging you all to please pay the meeting money so it can go back on track.” (DH)