With two private jets on call and a Hollywood wife, the Turks and Caicos prime minister lived like the rich and famous who have made the Caribbean island chain one of the hottest stops for celebrities.
Michael Misick says his lifestyle allowed him to court high-end developers and helped put the British territory southeast of the Bahamas on the map.
But his financial dealings are now the focus of a British investigative commission that is wrapping up hearings this week on the main island of Providenciales.
The Turks and Caicos still answers to a London-appointed governor, who formed the commission last summer after a British Parliament report found complaints of rampant corruption on the islands. The commission could call for a criminal investigation based on what it finds.
The hearings that began Jan. 13 at the Regent Palms Hotel have included sworn testimony from Misick’s estranged wife, actress LisaRaye McCoy, that she used a government-leased jet to vacation in Africa, visit her daughter in Switzerland and commute from Los Angeles. The couple also leased a Rolls-Royce and spent more than $1 million on the interior design of their home. Misick has denied abusing public funds.
Investigators said in the hearings that eastern European developer Mario Hoffman acquired resort land at a deep discount and received special tax breaks around the time one of his bankers gave the prime minister a $6 million loan — part of $20 million in personal loans that Misick has amassed from banks, a developer and political appointees.
Misick, 43, a London-educated lawyer and realty broker, testified himself that he continued to collect sales commissions after being elected prime minister.
But he makes no apologies.
When he was criticized for more than doubling his salary and earning more than British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the stocky leader with a slightly graying goatee replied: “Sir, I submit I have done more for Turks and Caicos than Gordon Brown has done for England.”
Now in his second term, Misick is also the tourism minister, the Turks and Caicos’ promoter-in-chief. Since he took office in 2003, the gross domestic product in the territory of 22,000 people has more than doubled to $750 million — largely through a resort-building boom.
Island aficionado Mark Amherst of privateislandsblog.com said the Turks and Caicos is “the new No. 1 holiday retreat for A-list celebrities.” It’s the place where Ben Affleck married, Eva Longoria honeymooned and Bruce Willis built a home.
Misick helped feed the buzz by party-hopping with McCoy, a Chicago-born actress who starred in the television series “All of Us” and appeared in the movie “Beauty Shop.”
But his troubles started in July when the commission, led by former British judge Sir Robin Auld, began probing a range of allegations, including claims that Misick and other island officials profited from the sale of government-owned land.
According to the testimony, Misick spent $275,000 in a jewelry store, chartered a jet for a Paris shopping spree and charged more than $1 million to an American Express account with his wife after they married in 2006.
McCoy acknowledged she spent as much as $200,000 a month, but she said it was necessary to buy new hats, gloves and suits to fit her “first lady lifestyle.”
The prime minister last month said his government “may have made mistakes,” but he is confident no laws were broken.
But the prospect of criminal charges has added to a growing list of problems.
In December, leaders of Misick’s own party said they had lost confidence in him. He and McCoy had an ugly breakup, with Misick accusing her of attacking him in August.
Misick urged the commission to consider his finances in the context of the territory. Across the Caribbean, he said, politicians routinely receive personal donations of tens of thousands of dollars with no strings attached.
But he does concede some excesses. Looking back, he said it would have more prudent not to keep two Gulf Stream jets on call.
Misick said he now flies commercial.