Feb. 6, 2004 – Finance Commissioner Bernice Turnbull issued a letter on Friday denying claims made in an article in Friday's V.I. Daily News. The newspaper's headline read: "Commissioner Turnbull trying to give her friend an $80,000 no-bids contract." A front-page headline referring to the inside-page story stated: "Employees call it a 'sweetheart deal' in a 'nasty and vindictive' workplace."
The newspaper article stated that Turnbull told her staff that Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards had told her to give out a contract to Conchita Benjamin, who recently retired from her job as chief of the Finance Department's Enforcement Division, where she had been making $59,000 annually. Turnbull told her staff last week that she would bring Benjamin back to her former position on contract, the article stated. No one else was considered for the position or allowed to bid for the contract, the newspaper said.
The Daily News said that neither Turnbull nor Richards returned calls regarding the article. It said Benjamin spoke to the newspaper but did not confirm anything. The newspaper said it unsuccessfully tried by telephone and in person to contact Turnbull for the story.
Turnbull wrote to the Daily News Friday afternoon, copying the letter to other news media:
"I am compelled to set the record straight. The facts are:
"- At a meeting with the Honorable Vargrave Richards, it was agreed that the Department of Finance should set up efforts to collect delinquent property taxes. At no point did the Lieutenant Governor suggest that I hire any person or direct how the department should proceed to collect real property taxes.
"- There is no contract for Ms. Conchita Benjamin, former chief enforcement officer, real property taxes, and none has been discussed with her.
"- Two weeks ago, my deputy commissioner and I requested information from the director of Personnel to initiate the process of hiring three retired employees on per diem, as authorized by statute, to assist with the collection of delinquent real property taxes."
Turnbull concluded her letter by stating that "Department of Finance records are available to the public in accordance with Virgin Islands law upon written request and a properly scheduled appointment."
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