Shortly after 8 p.m. Friday a jury delivered verdicts of not guilty on all 13 counts in a federal court case against former Public Finance Authority Director Julito Francis, Balbo Construction Co. owner Gerard Castor and John Woods, co-principal of architecture firm Jaredian Design Group.
The three men were indicted in August 2015 on charges that they had engaged in a conspiracy that entailed Castor exchanging heavily discounted construction work and materials for the assistance of Woods and Francis in procuring millions of dollars in government contracts.
Central to the case was the construction contract for the Charles W. Turnbull Regional Library, which Castor’s company won in 2008. Francis, as head of the projects financer, the PFA, and Woods, as the principal of the company with the library’s design contract, were both intimately involved in the process of building the library, although neither sat on a committee tasked with evaluating bids for the construction contract.
Around the same time that contract was awarded, Balbo Construction began what would amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars of work at the personal properties of Francis and Woods, who federal prosecutors accused of conspiring to steer the contract bidding process in Balbo’s favor.
As evidence of corrupt dealings the prosecution pointed to the fact that written agreements and payment plans for the personal jobs Balbo did for Francis and Woods at first did not exist, and later appeared unconventional, involving barters for professional services, a plot of land and even a car.
Government attorneys failed to convince jurors that the “flexible” way Castor, Francis and Woods did business was evidence that Francis and Woods did not intend to eventually pay Balbo in full, or that the three men were later scrambling to cover up a bribery scheme after federal investigations into public corruption in the V.I. heated up.
With no witness testimony or subpoenaed documents indicating that Francis and Woods corruptly influenced the library contract’s bidding process in the favor of Balbo, the government relied heavily on a timeline of events it said was sufficiently incriminating to warrant a guilty verdict.
Attorneys for the defendants highlighted testimony indicating that the government’s view of Francis and Woods’ individual power over the contract award may have been exaggerated, and testimony indicating Balbo had routinely taken other jobs where no contracts existed and payment was not furnished right away.
Castor was cleared of charges of conspiracy, bribery and honest services wire fraud. Woods was cleared of conspiracy, bribery and extortion under color of official right.
Francis was cleared of conspiracy, bribery, extortion under color of official right, honest services wire fraud and also perjury. In 2015 he testified to a grand jury that he was not present at a meeting regarding the library contract it was later determined he did attend, although the jury did not determine that he purposely lied.
Jury deliberations Friday lasted approximately seven hours.