April 16, 2004 – V.I. Inspector General Steven van Beverhoudt responded on Friday to the veto of legislation granting investigators on his staff peace-officer status and arrest powers. "My office has been questioned, and I am extremely upset and offended by it," he said.
The bill was one of two that Gov. Charles W. Turnbull vetoed last weekend. The other was Sen. Lorraine Berry's compromise legislation to create a tourism board.
Turnbull said he would propose an amended bill conferring peace-officer status without arrest powers for the investigators. Van Beverhoudt says he must have both in order for his office to carry out its mandate as the independent watchdog for the administrative, legislative and judicial branches of government.
Last month, Attorney General Iver Stridiron wrote Turnbull urging him not to approve arrest powers for the inspector general's office. Van Beverhoudt said at that time that "having peace-officer status without the power to arrest is meaningless."
He also said that he would have reservations about calling on the attorney general's investigators "when some of his own officers have been the subject of investigations."
According to Van Beverhoudt, all mainland inspectors general operate with peace-officer status and arrest powers.
Last year, David B. Cohen, deputy assistant Secretary of the Interior for insular affairs, addressed a meeting of the Island Governments Financial Officers Association. He told them: "We consider ourselves to be investors in the islands. As such, we expect the islands to provide us with a proper investment. Having a strong public auditor's office is an important way to assure us that our investments will be protected from waste, fraud and abuse."
Cohen continued: "We will look at a number of factors. For example, is the public auditor's office property funded and staffed with qualified people? How strong are the safeguards to its independence? Is it vulnerable to having its funding cut if it offends the government? Is it actively fulfilling its role as a public watchdog? We consider these factors to be relevant in deciding where our discretionary grants should go."
Van Beverhoudt accused Stridiron last month of trying to give the impression that, given the authority, his investigators would "be out arresting persons with abandon." He added: "This claim is very disingenuous on his part."
According to the inspector general, there have been only two instances where his office has sought to have an individual arrested. In both cases, he said, the V.I. Justice Department "was aware of the impending arrest, and a warrant showing probable cause was obtained from a Territorial Court judge. Because we didn't have peace officer status, we were forced to coordinate with the police to execute the arrest."
Van Beverhoudt said procedures "could be very cumbersome and time-consuming." Also, if an undercover operation is ongoing, he said, "the fewer people who know its existence, the less likely for it to be leaked." (See "Stridiron, van Beverhoudt split on arrest power".)
All materials on GRM subpoenaed
Van Beverhoudt said Stridiron strongly supported peace-officer status for the Inspector General's Office until he heard the testimony of special investigator Nicholas Peru last year in the Global Resources Management contract case before District Judge Thomas K. Moore. Immediately after Peru testified, van Beverhoudt said, the attorney general's attitude changed.
U.S. Attorney David Nissman asked Peru to testify, van Beverhoudt said, after Nissman found that Public Works Commissioner Wayne Callwood was "wavering" on the witness stand.
Peru testified that Callwood had given the Inspector General's Office information that differed from what he had testified to in Moore's court. Peru said Callwood told him of receiving lots of telephone calls from Ohanio Harris and Ashley Andrews, key figures in GRM, pressuring him to approve the contract.
Peru also testified that Callwood had said he was aware that Andrews had a reputation for being litigious — something Callwood had denied in court.
Van Beverhoudt said Stridiron was "furious" about Peru's testimony.
The day after Peru testified, "we received a subpoena for all materials we had on the GRM contract," he said. The Inspector General's office had been investigating the GRM contract for about four months before the hearing.
After receiving the subpoena, van Beverhoudt said, "We called Michael Law, assistant attorney general and the government's defense attorney in the trial. We asked him to compromise, because releasing all of the material would compromise our investigation."
Law refused, van Beverhoudt said, "so, we worked all weekend preparing an appeal to the District Court to quash the subpoena. We went before Judge Moore on Monday morning, Feb. 3, and he quashed the subpoena."
Van Beverhoudt provided documents tracing the evolution of the relationship between his office and the attorney general's. They show that Stridiron was supportive of the inspector general's request for peace-officer status for his investigators right up until Feb. 3.
Peru had been employed by the V.I. Justice Department but left the post to work as an investigator for the inspector general. At the time, Stridiron and van Beverhoudt entered into a memorandum of understanding giving Peru peace-officer status.
Early in January 2003, then-Police Commissioner Franz Christian wrote Stridiron in regard to the legality of Peru's continued designation as a peace officer once he left the Justice Department.
Stridiron on Jan. 8, 2003, wrote Turnbull defending Peru. He told the governor that under the V.I. Code the attorney general can grant peace-officer status to Justice Department employees but that the status ends when the employees leave the department.
"I recommend that the code be amended to confer on the inspector general the authority to designate peace-officer status on the Office of the Inspector General inspectors," he told the governor And he enclosed a proposed amendment to that effect.
Attorney general changes his mind
On Feb.3, 2003, the day Moore quashed the subpoena, Stridiron wrote van Beverhoudt that he had changed his mind about the memorandum of understanding. "I have decided that I shall not recommend to Governor Turnbull that the V.I. Code be amended to confer such status on the investigator for the Office of the Inspector General," the attorney general wrote.
He added that van Beverhoudt was "free to petition the governor or the Legislature to enact the aforementioned amendment to the existing statute. I regret I shall not be able to accommodate your office in this regard."
Van Beverhoudt did petition the governor, and on May 7, 2003, Turnbull sent Senate President David Jones legislation conferring peace-officer status on investigators of the Inspector General's Office and the V.I. Lottery office.
Van Beverhoudt pointed out Friday the V.I. Code already confers peace-officer status on lottery enforcement officers.
Stridiron on Friday called van Beverhoudt's charges that the attorney general had reacted based on Peru's testimony against the government "absolute poppycock." "You can quote me," he said. "I don't conduct the affairs of the Department of Justice based on personalities, on whose ox is being gored. Van Beverhoudt is well aware that originally I had tried to make his investigators special by way of conferring peace-officer status on them."
But then, Stridiron said, a second reading of the law determined that he could not do so. "I wrote him that I could not confer on his employees the peace-officer status," Stridiron contin
ued. "It had nothing to do with GRM. I had already signed a document, but my people, the solicitor general, alerted me from his division's research that we couldn't do it."
According to Stridiron, "If the inspector general is honest, he would tell you that the law doesn't allow that. He would have to petition the governor and send a bill to the Legislature."
That, in fact, is what van Beverhoudt has done.
Stridiron says his views have been misstated
Stridiron said there has been a misconception that he is against peace-officer status for the inspector general's investigators. "I haven't changed my position that they should have peace-officer status," he said. "But what I object to is them having arrest powers. My position has been misstated."
He said he also objected to agencies such as the Health Department and to Anti-Litter and Beautification enforcement officers having peace-officer and arrest powers. "At least one department, whose commissioner I won't name, has asked to have the status removed. Just because they have it doesn't mean it's right," he said.
But, Stridiron said, some agencies should have those powers. "For example, the marine enforcement officers of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, and the UVI campus police."
After exercising his veto power a week ago, the governor sent the Legislature amendment legislation giving V.I. Lottery and University of the Virgin Islands campus officers peace-officer and arrest powers. The measure also states that the inspector general's officers shall have "the power to investigate such matters as assigned by the I.G. and to carry firearms, and the ability to serve subpoenas."
Van Beverhoudt said his office has always had those powers. The legislation in that regard is meaningless to him.
Echoing Stridiron, the governor said the Inspector General's Office doesn't need arrest powers.
"Regarding the inspector general legislation," Turnbull wrote in his cover letter to Senate President David Jones, "granting the investigators … these broad [arrest] powers is not necessary for that office to perform its duties." (See "Governor vetoes two prominent bills".)
Clash over procedures in embezzlement case
In March 2003 van Beverhoudt and Stridiron crossed swords in a case where the Inspector General's Office had investigated and then arrested former Licensing and Consumer Affairs employee Dalsia Parilla, 28, for embezzlement. (See "Former DCLA employee to begin sentence".)
Van Beverhoudt has two investigators, Peru and Charles M. Allen II. Van Beverhoudt produced a November 2001 document signed by Stridiron starting that Allen had "previously served as an assistant attorney general in the white collar crime unit of the Department of Justice, is possessed of the experience, expertise and knowledge to assist the A.G.'s office, and is now serving as legal counsel for the V. I. Office of the Inspector General."
In the Parilla case, Stridiron was highly critical of Allen's actions. Allen, the investigating officer in the case, had appeared before the Territorial Court on St. Croix in his capacity as an assistant attorney general. Stridiron said Allen had no place doing that.
Van Beverhoudt said his office had conducted the investigation at the request of Licensing and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Andrew Rutnik. After it became apparent that Parilla had, indeed, misappropriated funds, van Beverhoudt said, and after several calls to the Attorney General's Office went unreturned, a "determination was made to proceed with the arrest of the suspect."
Van Beverhoudt said an affidavit and charging information was prepared "with the consultation and knowledge of the chief of the attorney general's Criminal Division on St. Croix." He said an arrest warrant was obtained from Territorial Court, and police executed the arrest.
Commenting on the matter on Friday, Stridiron said that one of van Beverhoudt's staff "went to Territorial Court and had a woman [Parilla] arrested. I had to scramble so we wouldn't violate her right to dismiss without prejudice. The gentleman [Allen] botched the entire matter, and I had to clean it up. He's lucky he didn't get sued."
Parilla entered a guilty plea to the charges and was sentenced to a year in prison and ordered to pay back the embezzled money.
Van Beverhoudt did not take kindly on Friday to Stridiron's remarks. "The arrest was identical to one that was done when Jamela Russell was arrested for isuing licenses to unlicensed electricians from DCLA earlier," the inspector general said. "We contacted Deputy Attorney General Alva Swan then, who told us to go ahead and make the arrest.
"This time we couldn't get in touch with Swan or the attorney general, so Charles [Allen] worked with the Justice Department chief. Their own secretary typed up the affidavit and we had a police officer escort us and make the arrest."
Police commissioner favors granting arrest powers
These are precisely the things van Beverhoudt wants to avoid — what he calls the "cumbersome" process of involving the Justice Department and the Police Department. Police Commissioner Elton Lewis has backed van Beverhoudt in this respect. He wrote Turnbull recently urging him to give both arrest powers and peace-officer status to the Inspector General's Office, ''and get rid of the middleman."
Van Beverhoudt said he is hoping the Senate will override the governor's veto. The legislation was passed on a unanimous vote with two senators absent.
Still upset at Turnbull's veto and what he sees as the perception that it casts aspersions on his office, van Beverhoudt said: "I'm going to protect the integrity of our office. We wouldn't be standing on street corners arresting every third person who comes along. The U.S. attorney calls us, and sometimes we work with the FBI. That means something to me. To say you'll give the power to arrest to other agencies and not to us — I want to know why."
Van Beverhoudt said that while he is dismayed by what has transpired, he remains philosophical. "What keeps me going is when I walk down the street and people stop me and tell me 'Keep it up. You're doing a good job,'" he said.
"If it was up to the bureaucrats, I'd have left a long time ago."
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