80.3 F
Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, June 29, 2022


Former V.I. senator John Tutein, accused of federal bribery charges, faced his accuser, Sen. Allie-Allison Petrus, in District Court Tuesday.
Before Petrus recounted his October 1998 encounter with Tutein during which he said the former senator, now an executive with Jeffrey Prosser's Innovative Communication Corp., offered him an envelope containing $100 bills, prosecution and defense attorneys laid out time lines that alternately implicated or exonerated the defendant.
In his opening statement, Assistant United States Attorney Curtis Gomez told jurors that while Tutein's visit to Petrus' office came just before the November 1998 elections, Tutein's offer of money was more than a campaign contribution.
"Some people were writing checks, basically getting involved in the political process," Gomez said. "That's not what this case is about. It's about public corruption."
Defense attorney Treston Moore, however, said his client was supporting Petrus for his effort to boycott Pueblo Supermarkets, not as an employee of ICC and not for the so-called "Prosser deal" involving tax breaks and the V.I. government.
"John Tutein, the individual, met with Mr. Petrus in 1998," Moore said. "Mr. Tutein offered Mr. Petrus a campaign contribution of $300 – not a stack of money."
A federal grand jury indicted Tutein last August for attempting to bribe Petrus to garner support for the Prosser deal. Under that proposed agreement — approved by the Legislature in June but vetoed by the governor –Prosser would have given the government 1,000 acres of land at Carambola on St. Croix and would have built several public projects in exchange for 30 years of tax breaks worth hundreds of millions of dollars for 10 of his companies.
It was during Senate debate over the deal that Petrus accused Tutein of trying to buy his support.
A key prosecution witness, Lorraine Harley Schuster, is expected to testify Wednesday. The government alleges that in February 1999, she approached Tutein, ICC's director of community relations, about the company funding the Graffiti Street youth program, in which she and Petrus were involved. It's alleged that Tutein agreed to arrange the purchase of a mobile broadcast van for the program if Petrus supported upcoming legislation concerning the Prosser deal.
On the stand Tuesday, Petrus recalled both his October 1998 meeting with Tutein and Schuster's encounter with the ICC executive. He said that in 1998, Tutein offered him an envelope containing at least one $100 bill. Shortly after declining the envelope, Petrus said Tutein again offered the money, but this time saying he could drop it on the floor near the senator's "man of business."
"I was disgusted that someone would go to that extent to give me a so-called contribution," Petrus said. As for the February encounter between Schuster and Tutein, Petrus said that at around that time he had heard "mumbling" about proposed legislation –- the Prosser deal — that was possibly going to come before the Senate. "I was pretty much pissed . . . that in order to get this van I would have to support something coming up," Petrus said.
Meanwhile, both attorneys worked to establish a time line to either disprove or prove the connection between the alleged bribe and the Prosser deal. The prosecution called George Jacobus, owner of the Carambola land, to testify. Jacobus said he sent Prosser a letter as early as June 1998 informing the St. Croix businessman that some 2,800 acres of land on St. Croix's northwest shore was for sale but never received a reply.
After the November 1998 election, ICC, through Tutein, began negotiating with Jacobus for an option on the Carambola land. In early February, around the time Schuster alleges Tutein offered the van in exchange for future support from Petrus, Tutein wrote the Turnbull administration regarding the possibilities of a land-for-tax breaks deal.
Rudolph Krigger, Gov. Charles Turnbull's economic advisor, testified that he received the letter from Tutein. He added that any tax benefits package with a life of more than 10 years would have to go to the Legislature for approval.
But defense attorney Moore told jurors that the Prosser deal wasn't in existence in October 1998. Under cross examination, Krigger told Moore that no conversations on the Prosser deal took place before Feb. 4, 1999.
And although Tutein, who earns $120,000 a year on top of a $2,000 per month housing allowance, had looked at possibly purchasing three or four acres of land near Jacobus' holdings in the early part of January 1999, Moore said it wasn't until a Jan. 22 newspaper story in which Sen. Adelbert M. "Bert" Bryan suggested the Government Employee Retirement System purchase the Carambola land for the people of the territory that Tutein came up with the land-for-tax breaks deal.
"That's the genesis . . . of when this plan began," Moore told the jurors. "The Prosser plan didn't exist in October 1998 – it couldn't."
As for why Petrus didn't report Tutein's offers, the senator said "there was no harm brought to anyone or the government."
"At that point we had nothing (legislation) before us," Petrus said.
The trial is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday in District Court on St. Thomas.

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