Oct. 2, 2002 – Holland L. Redfield II, Innovative Communication Corp. vice president for corporate affairs, called in to the Topp Talk show on WVWI Radio on Wednesday morning to defend a controversial report which he said he had not read.
Redfield was responding to media reports of Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg's public charge that ICC had conducted an extensive private investigation of him, his family, his professional associates, his staff and his friends. Donastorg said the investigation took in all his personal and professional activities going back to his childhood.
Redfield acknowledged that ICC did conduct such an investigation, but he said the action was justified. "Our concern was that there was an ulterior motive dealing with the basic survival of our corporation," he said, adding that what the investigation turned up "wasn't intended to be released."
He continued, "I may seem naive — I've not seen the report, myself — but it was done to see if [there was] an unsavory relationship between the senator and our competitors."
Redfield said the investigation started in 1998, when officials of the V.I. Telephone Corp. — Vitelco, now Innovative Telephone — believed that Donastorg had taken a free trip on an AT&T private plane to a jazz festival on the island of St. Lucia. Donastorg was incredulous at this statement, claiming in a call to the same radio show later in the morning, "I have never been to St. Lucia in my life."
AT&T and Vitelco were involved in a battle over laying fiber-optic undersea cable at that time.
Redfield, who in 1998 was himself serving his sixth term in the Legislature, defended the investigation: "There has to be some way that we can defend ourselves against these baseless accusations, day in, day out."
Donastorg has long been a foe of the phone company; last year he finally succeeded in getting legislation passed which mandates rate investigations of all regulated utilities every two years by the Public Services Commission. He has been relentless in his pursuit of Vitelco records for several years, most recently those concerning the 911 emergency surcharge. (See "Donastorg sues phone company over 911 tax".)
Redfield also implied in his comments Wednesday that Donastorg had ties to Georgetown Consulting, the firm that was fired by the PSC a couple of years ago after submitting a report of its findings that Vitelco had overcharged customers by $20 million.
A Donastorg aide said on Wednesday that the senator has never met anyone from that firm. "The only time he came face to face with their representative was in a Senate rate investigation," she said.
"It's amazing to me that he [Donastorg] would decide to make the investigation public," Redfield continued. "If there was an intention to hurt Senator Donastorg, then the investigation would have been made public. I don't know how he got hold of the report, which is really questionable."
Donastorg said he was compelled to release the files Vitelco kept on him to the news media in order to protect his family and "to demonstrate just how far the utility company was willing to go to silence me."
A question of victimization
Redfield said, "The question is: Why is he [Donastorg] constantly attacking these employees, and why is he questioning the company?" The Innovative executive added, "The victim in this incident is not Senator Donastorg; it's ICC." Redfield termed Donastorg's accusations "baseless," saying, "There is nothing the company has to hide. He is always questioning the integrity of the company, and it's absolutely baseless."
Redfield, a former senator, went one step further: "If I were in the Legislature today and I was doing what Senator Donastorg has done, I would expect the voters would call me on the carpet."
In the last general election, two years ago, 28 candidates ran for senator from the St. Thomas-St. John district. Donastorg got the most votes — 7,446, which was 1,731 more than the person with the next-highest number.
On the radio show, host Sam Topp repeated comments he had made earlier in the morning before Redfield's call, saying that "the specter of this kind of investigation always raises concern and alarm." Redfield replied that an investigation of the sort "is a routine matter" that "happens to public and private people all the time. There's nothing unusual about doing this."
As far as Donastorg is concerned, the investigation was highly unusual, very likely illegal and also immoral. "Vitelco is free to investigate my life," he said, "but it is highly immoral to include personal information about my relatives, employees and other associates."
He accused the telephone company of "using its resources to malign innocent members of this community. This is a profound invasion of their privacy."
He said the investigators Vitelco hired — Dennis Sheraw and Associates of St. Croix and an unidentified New York firm — had obtained his personal bank records, "a clear violation of banking laws."
A report to Vitelco dated May 20, 1998, listed balance information on Donastorg's accounts at three local banks, carrying a disclaimer stating the information was "difficult to obtain and highly confidential in nature."
Donastorg had in his office on Wednesday a photocopy of a check for $6,565 made out to Sheraw and Associates that was signed by Jeffrey Prosser, ICC president, and Thomas Minnich, former ICC chief operating officer, and drawn on a telephone company corporate account.
At what cost, and to whom?
He said he understands the investigation cost Vitelco more than $100,000 paid out of corporate funds. "I think it is quite sad that Vitelco is utilizing its resources to monitor my family and friends when ICC employees can't even get decent benefits," he said, referring to the complaints of Innovative Telephone workers who went on strike at midnight Tuesday. (See "Phone, cable-TV workers picketing on three islands:.)
The senator said his mother, whose employment history and background had been investigated, is "very distraught." He began to express his feelings about his family's reaction on the talk show Wednesday morning then abruptly stopped and changed course. Later he said to the Source that his mother is very saddened that such a thing could happen.
One of the reports contains vague information provided by "anonymous" sources on Donastorg's sexual background, which provided dull reading for a Source reporter. One of the anonymous source said the senator "fancied his looks and was elected on that basis."
Donastorg said, "What is most amusing is that the reports found that I am 'generally well-liked in the community, and have no skeletons.'"
Although the report was submitted to Vitelco in 1998, Donastorg said on Wednesday that he believes the investigation is "still likely ongoing." He said he believes additional, current files being kept on him have yet to surface. And he expressed fear for his safety and that of his family, as the dossier "indicates that I have been followed and my activities monitored."
Donastorg also expressed concerns about the far-reaching effects of the investigation and its ramifications in the community. On Tuesday, he wrote to Desmond Maynard, PSC chair, questioning the legality of the utility's ratepayers paying for ICC's investigation.
"It is very disturbing to me that this investigation, which has cost well over $100,000 … was paid for out of funds of a regulated utility company," he said. "If Vitelco paid for this
investigation, aren't the ratepayers ultimately paying for a private company to stalk and harass a public official? And if we have allowed this entity to operate in our territory as a monopoly with full tax benefits, does this not constitute an abuse of these privileges on Vitelco's part?"
"Further," Donastorg continued, "if Vitelco can use its immense resources to try and embarrass or ruin me, couldn't they do the same to any member of the PSC that happens to disagree with their position now or in the future?"
Donastorg pointed out to Maynard that "the investigation began, and the bulk of it transpired" years before he filed any legal action against The Virgin Islands Daily News or other ICC companies.
He said, "It is the PSC's responsibility to determine whether the funds expended for this investigation constitute an illegal expense under local and federal telecommunications regulations." And he concluded the letter: "I ask you, how far is ICC willing to go, and what will you do to stop them?"
Maynard did not return calls late Wednesday afternoon. Efforts to reach Redfield late Wednesday were unsuccessful.

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