A lifetime of looking over the shoulders of government officials has taught Steven van Beverhoudt a lot about human nature, the importance of patience, the reality of defeat and the fact that even success can sometimes be a bitter pill.
The first – and so far only – U.S. Virgin Islands inspector general, van Beverhoudt will retire from the post in November. In an interview with the Source last week, he looked back over his career and shared some insights about the past and recommendations for the future.
Van Beverhoudt is a multigenerational Virgin Islander with ancestry stretching back to the early colonial period. He grew up on St. Thomas, where he attended Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic School, and later, All Saints Cathedral School. He earned an accounting degree at what was then the College of the Virgin Islands. He is married to Myrna Velazquez Soto, of Fredriksted.
He entered government service 43 years ago, working first as a tax auditor with the Bureau of Internal Revenue.
At the time, the U.S. Interior Department’s Inspector General’s Office regularly performed oversight of local government agencies and operations, and a division of the V.I. Finance Department also did some reports. Federal auditors recommended that the V.I. government establish a more independent entity, and in 1982 the Legislature created the Bureau of Audit and Control, the forerunner of today’s Inspector General’s Office.
The bill became law without the signature of the sitting governor, the late Juan F. Luis, and for seven years it operated under a “director” rather than the intended, more independent “inspector general” – all of which perhaps was an indication of gubernatorial ambivalence and a foretaste of occasional clashes with administrations to come.
Van Beverhoudt joined the bureau in 1984 and worked his way up. In 1989, then Gov. Alexander Farrelly appointed him inspector general, finally fulfilling the mandate, and he has held the position ever since, being reappointed by several governors.
His tenure has lasted into six administrations: four Democrats, one Republican and one
Independent; Farrelly, Roy Schneider, Charles Turnbull, John deJongh Jr., Kenneth Mapp and Albert Bryan Jr. The term of office was originally six years but is now seven, to help underscore its independence from the executive.
One of the first major undertakings under his leadership was the 1991 audit of a wide-ranging capital projects contract, van Beverhoudt recalled.
“It took a lot of effort” including auditors working nights and weekends. “It was a lot of money” – roughly $5 million in government funds, he said. The report ran about 200 pages. It questioned the expenses of a prominent, well-connected person. The type of contract under scrutiny, which gave the contractor not only his costs but a percentage of cost-overruns, was a type disallowed by law.
Van Beverhoudt felt there was a strong case. “They went to court and everything.”
But then the government decided to try to settle the matter and the governor’s chief of staff worked on negotiations. “It went on for years” and the end result was less than great for the government.
“There’s some things you can change, and some things you can’t,” van Beverhoudt said. “You move on. You can’t take it personal.”
Besides, the work was not all for naught.
“The contract was canceled, so that was a plus. They stopped the bleeding,” he said.
Starting in 1998, the office has published its major audits on its website, www.viig.org. There are currently 72 listed there. But van Beverhoudt estimated that the office has actually performed “well over 100, about 150 to 200 maybe.”
They run the gamut from small, function-centered examinations of specific operations to in-depth investigations of suspected problem areas. Some are requested by a governor or by legislators or heads of the agencies themselves; some are the result of a tip from a concerned citizen or a whistle-blower; some are follow-ups of previous reports, some are initiated by the IG Office itself.
There have been reports on legislative spending, on attorney’s fees in a settlement agreement involving the clean-up of red bauxite dust, on government property auctions, on the school lunch program, loan programs at the Economic Development Authority, unemployment insurance, the administration of the hotel room tax, procurement and management of bond proceeds, the investment programs of the Government Employees Retirement System, land leasing by Agriculture, the Chicago office of Tourism, and on and on and on.
Sometimes the audits conclude there are no significant problems. More often, they find room for improvement.
“We always go in with a positive frame of mind,” the inspector general said. “I treat everyone with respect.” The bottom-line purpose of his office is to improve government function, and that may be as simple as finding a more efficient way to do something.
But the headline grabbers are those that lead to criminal prosecutions: three top executives at the St. Thomas hospital, for overpaying themselves in various ways; government officials and private individuals running a scam at government property auctions; the deputy chief of staff to a governor for embezzling government money; a senator submitting fraudulent travel reimbursement claims.
More than once, van Beverhoudt’s office has uncovered things he wished he didn’t see.
“I knew Anne (Violet Anne Golden) very well. It was sad,” he said of her case. She pleaded guilty to the misuse of federal funds intended for the use of the Casino Control Commission, where she was director.
“That was a very hard one,” van Beverhoudt said of the audit that led to her downfall. Years before, when she was a senator, she was a strong proponent of his efforts to strengthen the Inspector General’s Office.
In another instance, the office’s investigation of a suspected sham company called Elite Technical Services revealed that two commissioners, Dean Plaskett and Marc Biggs, were using their offices to award lucrative contracts to it. Both were later convicted on white-collar charges.
Van Beverhoudt said, “I was disappointed in Marc” who he described as a friend. To avoid a conflict, he passed the investigation on to the federal government since there were federal funds involved.
“It doesn’t leave a good taste in your mouth, but it’s your job, you have to do it,” he said.
Throughout his career, van Beverhoudt has fought to improve and maintain the independence of the Inspector General’s Office.
Early on, he faced what perhaps was the biggest challenge, during the Schneider administration.
According to van Beverhoudt, the governor announced at a Cabinet meeting, with van Beverhoudt in attendance, that he was going to transfer about half of the inspector general’s staff to the Internal Revenue Bureau, place a moratorium on new audits, and have van Beverhoudt report directly to Schneider’s special assistant, Elmo Roebuck.
Van Beverhoudt recalled he didn’t say a word at the meeting, but he left and drafted a letter to the governor, with copies to Congress, the Legislature and a few others. Before he sent it, Schneider’s attorney Mike Marden reviewed it and met with van Beverhoudt.
“He said, ‘I see you’ve declared war,’ ” van Beverhoudt said. “I said ‘No, if I declared war I would have sent it already.’ ”
“I went up there (to Government House) and the governor cursed me from one end of Government House to the other,” the inspector general said. In the end, Schneider didn’t go through with his threat, but it had made a mark.
“That was the impetus to get the (inspector general) legislation changed,” van Beverhoudt said.
In 1999, the law was tightened to give the entity more independence. The name was changed, making it an office instead of a bureau since “bureau” implies it is subordinate to something. The deputy inspector general was now to be appointed by the inspector general, not by the governor. The office-holder was now to get a salary similar to that of commissioners “to put us on equal standing” and it was made clear that “no one could tell us who not to audit or who to audit.”
A few years later, van Beverhoudt pushed to get the authority to make arrests. It cost him some goodwill with a former ally, Iver Stridiron, who was attorney general at the time. The two waged a public battle over the move, with the inspector general eventually getting the status.
He said the office is still not completely independent; he still has to submit his budget request to the sitting governor. However, “we’re closer, in that our budget is lump sum.”
While he has ruffled more than a few feathers over the last 32 years and more, van Beverhoudt has generally enjoyed a reputation for fairness and integrity.
In 2008, he was named “person of the year” by Rotary Club II, which has been giving the prestigious award for decades. In introducing him at that time, the late Rotarian, Elliott “Mac” Davis said, “I am always struck by the clear theme of each (audit,) not to condemn individuals for doing things the wrong way, but to point out the best practices, and then to give advice. He has always valued fairness. With a quiet nature and a comprehensive knowledge about how to do his job, he has protected the people he serves.”
Sadness and the long view
The past year has been a hard one, personally, for van Beverhoudt and for his wife and family. In a well-publicized incident incomprehensible to them, his younger son Mark shot four of his family, killing two of them, before killing himself.
Van Beverhoudt said he and his wife are receiving counseling and they rely on their faith for comfort and strength. In recent months, there have been several other deaths of loved ones due to the Covid-19 pandemic to add to the trauma.
All of that has convinced van Beverhoudt to be thankful for what he still has and not to take anything for granted. “It’s here, and it can be gone in a flash,” he said.
What is his advice for his as yet unnamed successor?
“Always be true and honest and humble. Hear all sides before you make a decision. . . Do the right thing no matter what. Do what you’re hired to do.”
Editor’s note: This story has been edited since it was initially posted to correct van Beverhoudt’s family background. The Source regrets the error.