Getting the vote out: Part of the grassroots campaign involved using OBA signage at busy locations. *File photo
Getting the vote out: Part of the grassroots campaign involved using OBA signage at busy locations. *File photo

He is one of the key figures at the centre of the biggest political scandal in years and he has never spoken
publicly about his role — until now. 

Steven DeCosta wants Bermuda and the world to know that neither he nor his friend and business colleague Craig Cannonier did anything wrong. 

For the first time, he talks openly about the grassroots campaign he and consultant Derrick Green led to help get the OBA elected in December, 2012.

And he talks about how the $350,000 donated by Nathan Landow and his associates was spent and why it was pumped into an account separate from the party’s political funds.

The 43-year-old father-of-two maintains there was never a ‘quid pro quo’ with the US millionaire and tells the Bermuda Sun: “I’m proud of what we did.”

A $350,000 donation made by US businessmen to the OBA’s election campaign was spent on an “unprecedented” covert operation to win the 2012 election.

This from Steven DeCosta, who, together with party consultant Derrick Green, masterminded a grassroots strategy that involved a huge blog and media campaign as well as extensive signage and pamphlet drops across the island.

Lifting the lid on the $428,000 operation for the first time, Mr DeCosta says all expenditure had been properly itemized and accounted for throughout the campaign.

And he dismissed suggestions that any of the $350,000 donation made by US businessman Nathan Landow and his associates ended up in former Premier Craig Cannonier’s pocket: “The money did not go to Craig Cannonier.”

Asked if someone was keeping track of how the money was being spent he said: “Yeah — there was a full accounting and reconciliation of how the cash was spent. And the $350,000 was not enough — there was a shortfall.

“The OBA still paid us more on top of that to do what we were doing. We were submitting invoices to them as well.”

The Sun was shown a spreadsheet detailing payments for equipment, and man-hours, with dates and amounts to back up this claim. And when asked, Mr DeCosta said numbers were made available to those looking into the matter.

In his report on JetGate, party chairman Thad Hollis said he had been shown documents that purportedly showed money spent on campaign-related activities. But they were “unaudited” and he relied “on the veracity of Mr DeCosta and Mr Green”.  

Mr DeCosta said the total cost of the stealth operation came to $428,000: “Derrick and I would not have been able to run the successful campaign we did without the funding.”

The covert canvassing operation was launched in August 2012, several months before Premier Paula Cox called the election.

Mr DeCosta said the campaign involved purchasing equipment such as laptops and printers. It gathered momentum in the following months and he said he initially financed it himself —  to the tune of around $60,000 to $65,000 — until the donations arrived from Mr Landow and his associates.

He told the Sun that he later paid himself back the out-of -pocket expenses, from the $350,000 donation.

“By late August I had mobilized my team — and we thought we would be able to get our funding out of the OBA.

“My team of grassroots workers [consisted of] guys going doing flyers and signs, that kind of stuff.

“There was a cost to carrying those guys then, that I was paying myself. At that time there were probably only about 12.

“But we were in full swing blogging, Facebook, Bernews, the RG and radio talk shows.”

Mr DeCosta confirmed that he and Mr Green set up the Bermuda Political Action Club account once they had been told that donations would be forthcoming from the US.

He then transferred the money into his company account, D&B Consultants, in large sums, by cheque, to pay his team and to reimburse himself. 

He said using his firm’s operating account gave him more flexibility: “We [himself and Mr Green]  were both signatories on the [BPAC] account and because of that we had to keep running to the bank. So what I did was we took out larger amounts — $90,000 and $60,000 — and moved it into my company.We would go and request a manager’s cheque. It would go into my operating account.”

Asked why the money from the US donors was not originally deposited into the OBA’s official account, he said: “So we could control the spending of it without authorization.

“That was the reason for separate accounts. So we could run the grassroots campaign.”

He added: “We went to the bank and we had to come up with a name for the account. I was actually going to have the money wired directly into my D&B consultant accounts.

“When we gave that instruction they could not do it from their side because of the foreign corruption policy act — it had to go to a political account and PAC account.

“So we went to the bank and said, well, okay, we will open up and we randomly picked a name.The guys away said it was called a PAC account [in the US] so I just said well Bermuda Political Action Club — that’s a B PAC account so we just put a name to it.

“We got to the bank, filled out all the paperwork and they said ‘What are the funds for?’ What are you expecting to come into the account?’ And we said we don’t know. It could be $50,000, could be $600,000.

“She [the bank staffer] said ‘Well, what is it being used for?’ and we said ‘political donations’.

“At that point she said you can’t open an account without the authorization from the party, so we told the bank to call the campaign chairman.

“They made a call. I don’t know who they called.

“But we opened the account and then funds started coming into the account around three weeks, maybe a month afterwards.

“It was a while. They did not come right away and all this time the grassroots campaign is revving up.

“We are in October and this thing is starting to pick up.”

Mr DeCosta said that in the weeks leading up to the election, he had 32 “ground workers” working around the clock setting up OBA signs. The “stealth team” were recruited from jobless Bermudians and paid between $20 and $25 per hour, often in cash.

He added: “That five weeks of that campaign — the writ period — was unbelievable. I had 32 guys on the ground.

“Simultaneously, you have 100 signs coming out of St George’s and St David’s — then you have Trimingham Hill and Flatts.

“They put them down at 5:45 in the morning when it’s dark, leave them there, stand with them off to the side, 9 o’clock comes and they pull them all up.

“Four o’clock comes, go to three other locations and put them all back down again. And we had to stand there because if we did not, there were other people that were taking them. We tried that and they were taking them.

“That was it every day, seven days a week for the writ period.”

Mr DeCosta said he “absolutely loved” the campaign work: “At this time we probably had six people blogging 24 hours a day.”

Describing the operation as a “well-oiled machine”, he added: “A stealth programme is designed so that even within the OBA they don’t know exactly what is going on because you don’t want people to know.

“There are pseudonyms when you are in the social media — there was an element of the unknown that was deliberate with that process.

“What I did was I went to people who did not have jobs and I went to the black community. I employed them and I paid them by the hour around $25 maybe $20 an hour dropping flyers.

“I was dropping 36 constituencies in two days; around 30,000 to 35,000 flyers. Imagine the manpower it took to do that. I had to pay for cars, I paid for gas, I paid for food.

“These guys you pay them by the hour. They would be split-shift working because we could not go at busy times of the day so they would go out in teams of 12 guys.

“We had our own office at Hamilton House and I had maps, I had to layout the routes where the guys would go, how many guys.”

He added: “There were win bonuses paid to practically everyone in the whole team [after the OBA won the election] and we deserved it, too.

Asked if he made a profit from the operation Mr DeCosta said: “Yes, I did well.” 

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