87.5 F
Charlotte Amalie
Monday, July 4, 2022


A jury of 10 women and two men took about three and a half hours Thursday night to acquit former V.I. senator John Tutein of all bribery charges brought against him by the federal government.
Tutein, a vice president of St. Croix businessman Jeffrey Prosser’s Innovative Communications Corp., was indicted last August by a federal grand jury on five counts of bribery involving Sen. Allie-Allison Petrus.
In the three-day trial, federal prosecutors tried to link what Tutein called an October 1998 campaign contribution, but what they called a bribe, and other alleged offers to Petrus and the so-called "Prosser deal" of early 1999. That deal, developed between the V.I. government and ICC in February and March, would have had Prosser purchase acreage on St. Croix and trade a portion of it to the government for 30 years' worth of tax breaks valued at least $178 million.
While Prosser pulled the original tax break deal off the table, the Senate revived it. It passed on an 8-7 vote in May, only to be vetoed by Gov. Charles Turnbull. It was during the Senate debate over the bill that Petrus accused Tutein of trying to offer him money and equipment for his vote.
During his closing argument in court, Tutein’s attorney, Treston Moore, said Petrus’ May statements were nothing more than rhetoric aimed at swaying his colleagues in the Senate.
"What he said at the Legislature was political puff," Moore said. "What really happened in October was a campaign contribution, not a bribe."
Shortly before 5 p.m. Thursday, District Court Judge Thomas Moore finished his instructions to the jury that the prosecution had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Tutein was guilty. With their verdict, the jurors showed they weren't convinced that Tutein, with corrupt intent, knowingly tried to offer something of value to Petrus in exchange for his vote.
Count one of the indictment, which placed the matter in federal court, charged that in February 1999 Tutein, 42, knowingly offered a co-producer at Petrus’ Graffiti Street youth program approximately $200,000 worth of vehicles and broadcasting equipment in exchange for Petrus’ support on the Prosser land-for-tax-breaks deal.
Because the V.I. government receives more than $10,000 a year in federal funds, the case was tried in District Court. While Tutein said he had a conversation last February with Lorraine Harley Schuster, a producer at Graffiti Street, he said he never promised her anything.
Count two, an alleged violation of the V.I. code, claimed that in October 1998 Tutein offered to drop an envelope containing money at the feet of a Petrus associate in exchange for Petrus' support of I.C.C. in the Senate. Tutein claimed the money was a personal campaign contribution and that he never suggested dropping it on the floor.
Count three, also an alleged violation of V.I. Code, was essentially the same as count two, but dealt with the February 1999 incident.
Counts four and five alleged that Tutein attempted to induce Petrus to violate local conflict of interest laws by offering him money and vehicles for the youth program.
For the charges of bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, Tutein faced a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. For the territorial offense of bribing public officials, Tutein faced five years and a $1,000 fine. For inducing a conflict of interest, he faced five years and a $5,000 fine.
In his closing argument, Assistant U.S. Attorney Curtis Gomez said that because Petrus had spurned Tutein’s offer of money in October 1998, Tutein conditioned any help with Graffiti Street on Petrus supporting the Prosser deal in the Senate. Tutein, said Gomez, was "trying to buy his vote in return for support of kids. That was what Mr. Tutein was trying to do.
"(Petrus) is thinking kids, (Tutein) is thinking of himself and his company," said Gomez.
Neither Tutein nor attorney Moore could be reached for comment Thursday night after the jury’s decision.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.

Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.




Comments Box SVG iconsUsed for the like, share, comment, and reaction icons
This message is only visible to admins.
Problem displaying Facebook posts.
Error: Server configuration issue