The four men, who investigators allege rigged the bidding process during property tax auctions held in 2012 and 2013, entered not guilty pleas in V.I. Magistrate Court on St. Thomas Thursday.
Edward P. McKenzie, Calford O. Charleswell, Paul Sabers and Sylvester Warner have all been charged with conspiracy and violations of the Criminally Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO). Charleswell and McKenzie also face other felony charges. An arresting affidavit filed by investigator Nicholas Peru, with the V.I. Inspector General’s Office, said Sabers also was allegedly involved with the other three men in a scheme to acquire a piece of land in Estate Frydenhoj that he and McKenzie had already illegally constructed a dock next to.
The charges follow a 2014 Inspector General’s report that found most of the sales from auctions conducted by the Lieutenant Governor’s Office in 2012 and 2013 should be voided based on finding “highly irregular and questionable practices” and an alleged scheme to manipulate the bidding process, shut out legitimate bidders and transfer properties at undervalued prices.
“There is also a strong indication that one or more officials from the Lieutenant Governor’s Office either participated in the bid manipulation scheme or were aware of it happening and failed to prevent it from continuing,” according to the report.
During a news conference in October, Lt. Gov. Osbert Potter said the sale of 105 properties were officially voided in July, and since then his office has conducted an investigation that turned up other “irregularities.” He didn’t say at the time who in his office was being investigated for the scheme, but did say that because of the auctions, the territory lost thousands of dollars because of mismanagement of the auction process.”
During Thursday’s hearing, all four men asked for a speedy jury trial.
At another news conference in November, acting Attorney General Claude Walker said more arrests would be coming.