Sept. 18, 2003 Allegations of fraud and corruption within the Public Works Department were a major topic of discussion Wednesday during a Senate Government Operations Committee hearing with the agency.
In his opening remarks, the committee chair, Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone, said the first few minutes of the hearing would be devoted to discussing the matter but that he felt "it is best the issue be investigated by the joint Public Corruption Task Force," so that information exposed would not be detrimental to the investigation.
However, Inspector General Steven van Beverhoudt told committee members during his testimony that an earlier investigation by his office had been closed due to insufficient evidence.
Van Beverhoudt said after receiving a March 26 letter from Randy Germain, deputy commissioner of operations at Public Works, alluding to two incidents of corruption, he opened an investigation into the matter. His investigators had met with Germain and his informants, van Beverhoudt added.
"None of the allegations could be substantiated," van Beverhoudt said. "The matter remained open until Aug. 4, pending additional information from the complainant and was then closed."
Van Beverhoudt is a member of the task force, a joint effort of the V.I. Justice Department and the Office of the V.I. Inspector General, along with the Internal Revenue Bureau director, Louis Willis.
But in the last week of August, Attorney General Iver Stridiron said the task force had taken no action up to then regarding the allegations raised in August before the Senate Finance Committee. The reason, he said, was that no investigation can be undertaken without a formal request. (See "Public Works fraud charges to be investigated".)
Public Works Assistant Commissioner Robert Moorehead had also written to his superior, Commissioner Wayne Callwood, about the allegations of fraud. (See "DPW fraud charges aired at budget hearing".)
Malone had requested an investigation into the matter later in August, following some urging from Sen. Usie Richards after the letters were disclosed at a legislative hearing. The investigation was not reopened.
"We have two officials claiming incidents of fraud, waste and abuse and there is no information to substantiate at this time?" Sen. Lorraine Berry, a committee member, asked.
Moorehead's letter had indicated that the department's equipment might have been used illegally for the clearing of private land. Germain's letter stated "monies have been paid to a high level DPW official for services rendered, to include kickbacks "
Under questioning Moorehead said sometimes the Police Department requests that Public Works clear private property because of public safety reasons.
Berry requested that Callwood provide the committee with the department's policy for clearing private land. Callwood said he would do so by Friday.
Berry also asked Callwood whether or not it was true that Germain's responsibilities were "taken away from him" since he became a "whistleblower."
Callwood said Germain's responsibilities were reduced but that was because he had not been performing his duties at an optimum level. However, Germain still holds the title of deputy commissioner of operations and receives a $65,000 salary. Callwood added that a technical assistant is now performing Germain's duties. That individual receives $58,000 a year.
Sen. Celestino White, questioning Moorehead about the contents of his letter, asked who brought the allegations to him. Moorehead replied that he doesn't remember the individual's name "at this time." He also said that he never followed up on the individual's concern on whether the land to be cleared was requested by the Police Department.
"The answers given to me by Mr. Moorehead are totally unacceptable," White said.
White moved to subpoena Germain to appear at a Government Operations Committee meeting to be held on St. Croix in the next two weeks. Committee members approved the motion unanimously.
The committee also took testimony from residents and various organizations on their concerns about the territory's roads and streetlights. Ann Durante, president of the Northside Civic Organization, talked about the condition of the roads in that area and gave suggestions to DPW.
Callwood also took the opportunity to request a $4.45 million increase in DPW's Fiscal Year 2004 budget.
Committee members attending the hearing were Sens. Berry, Douglas Canton Jr., Emmett Hansen II, Louis Hill, Malone and White. Committee member Sen. Carlton Dowe was absent.
Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name, and city and state/country or island where you reside.
Publisher's note : Like the St. John Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice … click here.