The Charles Wesley Turnbull Library case continued on Monday with lengthy testimonies from Balbo Construction’s operations manager and a local construction expert, who were questioned to help determine whether or not the three defendants in the case unlawfully used government resources for personal gain.
The defendants in the trial are former Public Finance Authority executive director Julito Francis Jr., Jaredian Design principal John Woods and Balbo Construction owner Gerard Castor Sr. Between the three men, there are charges of bribery, taking bribes, extortion under color of official right, wire fraud, honest services wire fraud and perjury.
Francis has been accused of taking bribes in exchange for awarding the library contract to Castor’s company, Balbo Construction, while Woods allegedly helped Castor secure the library contract. Castor is accused of providing bribes in the form of working on Francis’ and Woods’ homes for the contract. (See Related Links below for full charges)
Castor’s attorney Darren John-Baptiste spent the morning questioning Balbo Construction’s operations manager, Carol Brooks-Warrington, about the company’s building practices and record-keeping system.
Brooks-Warrington said that when she started working for Balbo Construction in 2007 its records were in disarray and that it was common for her boss to do jobs based on estimates instead of contracts. She said it wasn’t out of the ordinary that construction was completed based on an estimate and for her boss, Castor, to make special arrangements with his clients on how payments would be handled.
John-Baptiste examined a number of Balbo Construction’s old estimates and business documents for jobs the company completed for private individuals and churches. The evidence showed that Castor wasn’t always diligent about collecting money and that he often continued work when there were outstanding payments.
For the defense, examining Castor’s business practices is important, since prosecutors maintain that Francis, Woods and Castor only started discussing payment for Balbo Construction’s work on Francis’ and Woods’ homes after federal investigations began.
Prosecutors said that although Castor’s business generally works on more public projects, when it does do private jobs it’s usually for public officials or other high-profile people that could potentially help his company, so he’s more lenient with them.
The defense presented letters between Francis and Balbo regarding the construction done to his home, as well as payments that were made on the bill between 2013 and 2015. Prosecutors showed that Francis’ wife, Dr. Debra Wright-Francis, started making $2,000 monthly payments in 2013. To defray some of the $400,000 worth of work that was done to the home, Francis also gave Balbo Construction a plot of land that was credited to the account for $135,000, though its 2015 tax assessed value of $170,000 is making its worth a source of debate between the two parties.
In April 2014 Balbo Construction filed a complaint against Francis andWright-Francis for the remainder of the money owed, which resulted in a settlement.
The so-called “rock clause,” which refers to the contract for the removal of “blue bit rock” from the library site, was examined by both the defense and prosecution. According to the defense, the new library had no use for the rock and it would have cost Balbo Construction money to haul it to and dispose of it all at the landfill.
The V.I. government paid Balbo construction for removing the rock, which was later used for the construction of Woods’ new driveway. Earlier in the day, Brooks-Warrington gave a conflicting report that Balbo construction was not paid for the rock removal.
Federal attorney Justin Weitz and his team argued that even though the rock had not cost Castor or Woods any money, it still had value and could thus be used for bribery.
Woods also gave Castor a Chevy Malibu car but it was never credited on his account.
In order to get a better understanding of what the fair market value of the new driveway would be, prosecutors called a defense witness, Denswell Hodge of Apex Construction, to the stand. Functioning as a local construction expert with 30 years of experience in the Virgin Islands, Hodge testified that value of the Woods’ driveway was between roughly $118,000 and $124,000, a cost that would include labor, material and overhead.
But the defense argued that the nature of the work Balbo Construction did for Woods made the fair market value of the job irrelevant, since Castor was only charging for labor. After doing a site survey, Hodge estimated that the labor cost alone for the driveway work should be around $38,000, which is more than the $15,000 Woods paid.
Last week, prosecutors said that Woods tried to “cover up” his alleged involvement in the contract scheme by designing a new office for Balbo Construction in exchange for the driveway construction. Prosecutors presented documents showing that Woods completed commercial, structural and electrical designs for the new office to pay for the remainder of the money owed for the driveway.
On Monday Brooks-Warrington told prosecutor that Balbo Construction received the design plans in 2014, but that construction has yet to commence because the company had been significantly behind on its lease payments. According to Brooks-Warrington, the company has since gotten on a monthly payment plan to pay the money it owes.