March 20, 2003 – Thursday was "another sad day" for the Licensing and Consumer Affairs Department, as an employee was arrested — the third in about a year — on charges of embezzling, Commissioner Andrew Rutnik said.
Dalsia Parilla, a Taxi Division worker, was taken into custody at the DLCA St. Croix offices around 2 p.m. and accused of stealing up to $50,000 from the department over at least a year's time, Rutnik said.
He said officers from the Inspector General's Office and the Police Department charged Parilla with fraud. She had been the subject of an investigation, based on a tip from a taxicab driver, for the last six weeks, he said.
It is alleged that Parilla accepted payments to the Taxi Division, then issued incorrect receipts for the money, Rutnik said.
Department officials were aware that monthly Taxi Division reports reflected a downturn in revenues, the commissioner said, but the drop was attributed to St. Croix's foundering tourist economy. There is no penalty for late payment of fees, and "nobody had any money to pay," he said. "We were presuming it was an economy issue."
Then the department was contacted by a taxi driver who reported having been asked to make a payment by a check made out to "cash." A recently activated computer program enabled investigators to go back and determine how many receipts Parilla had issued, as employees must log in to the system to carry out functions, Rutnik said. He said the investigation is ongoing, as officials seek to determine if others may have been involved.
"This is another sad day, because we've already had two incidents of arrest on St. Croix," Rutnik said. A little over a year ago, Jamila Russell, 30, special assistant to the DLCA assistant commissioner for boards and commissions, was charged with issuing five illegal professional contracts.
Last October, the department's former assistant director of licensing, Anella Pinney, 53, was sentenced to a year in prison after pleading guilty to swiping $5,000 in cash for licensing fees over a seven-month period.
Parilla has worked for the department for a little over two years, Rutnik said. "We know this has been going on for the last few months," he said, "and it looks like possibly for the last year. We have records we have to go into still."
Indications so far, he said, point to money having been taken on 40 to 50 occasions.
The Taxi Division has an annual revolving fund of about $350,000, Rutnik said. All collections from taxi medallions and license and lease fees go into the fund to pay the division's expenses, including personnel. "We estimate that a minimum of $50,000 has been misappropriated," the commissioner said.
While there are no indications of similar problems in the DLCA offices on St. Thomas, he said, an audit of the entire Taxi Division will be made.
Rutnik said Parilla has not been dismissed and likely will not be until the case is further developed. But he said he would take action "very soon" to suspend her pay.
Parilla was arraigned Thursday afternoon in Territorial Court and bail was set at $50,000. Rutnik said he did not know whether she posted bond.
The commissioner said he spoke with Gov. Charles W. Turnbull about the matter Thursday and that the governor was "very upset." "This is a message that goes out to government employees," Rutnik said, "that corruption and theft of government resources will not be tolerated."
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