Sept. 19, 2003 U.S. Attorney David Nissman enjoyed a few moments of glory Friday morning — after years of hard work — in announcing indictments in seven cases that he said have a "common theme" while differing in the particulars. That theme, he said, is "exploitation" of the Virgin Islands community.
The indictments handed up by a federal grand jury cover a broad range of charges — money laundering, unlawful distribution of controlled substances, grand larceny, unlawful possession of a firearm, child pornography, jury tampering and falsifying immigration documents.
Nissman said in all cases the persons involved unlawfully put their own needs before the needs of the community.
He said the cases involving direct loss of money to the people of the Virgin Islands — that is, the public coffers — come under an initiative dubbed Operation Lost Treasure. In one case, the treasure is said to amount to $60 million.
Plaza Extra owner Fathi Yusuf and four other individuals accused of being his cohorts have been indicted on charges of money laundering, wire fraud and tax evasion involving that amount of money.
In a money-laundering and tax-evasion scheme, the indictment charges, Yusuf and the co-conspirators held cash out of the daily receipts from Yusuf's Plaza Extra stores and later directed operatives to take the cash in increments of less than $10,000 to local banks and purchase cashier's checks, traveler's checks and money orders.
The checks and money orders, along with large sums of cash, were then deposited in banks in St. Martin and later sent to the Cairo Amman Bank in Amman, Jordan, the indictment charges.
Cash transactions of less than $10,000 are not required to be reported to federal authorities under the Suspicious Activity Report law. Nissman credited bank employees with helping nail down the case after his office conducted a series of seminars on recognizing and reporting suspicious activity.
Dr. Lucien Moolenaar II is also among those accused of putting his own needs above those of his community. Moolernar was originally charged with embezzlement by the V.I. Attorney General's Office in January 2001, but the charges were dropped, Nissman said, because of a "problem with legal theory."
When the local attorney general starts a case, "we will allow it to go forward," Nissman said. However, he added, once the case in question was dismissed locally, "we picked it up."
The federal indictment accuses Moolenaar, a former acting Health commissioner now serving as the Health Department's deputy commissioner of Public Health Services, of stealing $102,497 in government funds between July 1995 and September 2000.
Moolenaar erroneously was issued 63 extra paychecks during that period and never reported it, according to the indictment. The federal charges are conversion of government funds and grand larceny. He could face 10 years in prison for each offense and be fined up to $250,000.
A case with an alleged human toll involves a local doctor charged with distribution of OxyContin, a dangerously addictive narcotic prescribed for the control of pain. Dr. Paul V. Maynard is charged with 170 counts of illegal distribution of the controlled substance or derivatives. According to the indictment, an unwarranted prescription Maynard wrote for the drug may have resulted in the death of at least one person a week later.
Another indictment relative to a human cost was handed up in the case of 33-year-old Winston Herbert.
Nissman took time at a press conference on Friday morning to explain that the federal Violence Against Women Act makes it unlawful for anyone under a restraining order to be in possession of a firearm. Herbert is accused of violating the terms of a territorial restraining order by having a gun. If convicted, he could serve up to 10 years in prison and be fined $250,000.
Nissman emphasized the importance of this case by saying officials of the Women's Coalition of St. Croix told him that 28 people have been killed in the territory since 1987 in acts of domestic violence.
He said the Herbert indictment is the first such case to be brought in the Virgin Islands federal district.
In another case, Vanroy Wendall Benjamin Jr. was charged with two counts of jury tampering arising from a threatening gesture he made toward a jury sitting in a case on St. Croix.
Benjamin made a neck-cutting gesture toward members of the jury. He is charged with a federal offense that carries a 20-year jail sentence and with a territorial offense carrying up to five years in prison.
Nissman said the "administration of justice will not be improperly influenced by anyone."
In another case, Malcolm L. Hughes of St. Croix was indicted on charges of possession of child pornography received through the U.S. mail.
Nissman characterized child pornography as any pictures of persons under the age of 18 displayed for sexual arousal.
In the seventh case, Nissman announced that Juana Zejada was charged with falsifying documents and claiming to be a U.S. citizen. Zejada, also known as Nelly Colon Martinez, allegedly presented the false documents to a U.S. Immigration official at Henry E. Rohlsen Airport as she tried to board a plane to Philadelphia.
Nissman called the Zejada case a "reactionary" one — in which a suspect is charged immediately.
When asked if there were more such cases on the way, Nissman replied: "There are many aliens on the way; when they get here and we catch them, there will be more indictments."
He made it clear that there will be more indictments and arrests across the board where white-collar crime and public corruption and any crimes that carry a cost to the citizens of the Virgin Islands — are concerned.
"When I came here 20 years ago, the gross receipts tax was 2 percent," Nissman said. It is now 4 percent. He said legitimate business owners have been forced to "bear the load" for those who have skirted the law. He said the Yusuf case is "the first but not the last" of the real tax evasion cases to be investigated and prosecuted by his office.
Since the U.S. Attorney's Office is no longer charged with prosecuting a number of types of cases that now fall under Territorial Court, Nissman said, his staff is freed up to go after crimes and criminals that cause money to be "skimmed" from the coffers of the V.I. government — "money that should be used for schools, roads and hospitals."
Credited with major roles in the grand jury indictments, and in attendance at Friday's press conference at the Ron De Lugo Federal Building on St. Thomas, were:
Samuael Santan, FBI special agent.
Michael Clarke, FBI local agent.
Bryan Wimpling, FBI special agent.
Conrad Hoover, U.S. Marshals Service.
Roberto Medina, Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Hillary Hodge Jr., Homeland Security special agent.
Marcelino Sustanche, Drug Enforcement Agency special agent.
Charles Graham, Drug Enforcement Agency special agent.
Nicholas Marsh, U.S. Department of Justice trial lawyer.
Steven van Beverhoudt, V.I. Inspector General.
Charging documents in all seven cases may be found here.
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