ST. THOMAS, V.I. – Attorney General Claude Earl Walker has issued a
stern warning that his office will prosecute anyone engaged in any scam at the
upcoming government property auctions.
having any ideas of engaging in fraudulent acts on auction day to secure
property are hereby warned that they do so at their own peril as we intend to
prosecute anyone having been found to have engaged in such activity at any of
the lieutenant governor’s real property auctions,” AG Walker said Friday
morning during a joint press conference with Lt. Gov. Osbert Potter at
Walker made these comments in light of the recent arrests and subsequent
sentencings of several persons who pleaded guilty to participating in a scheme
to defraud the government through a 2012 property auction.
Four men –
Calford Charleswell, Sylvester Warner, Paul Sabers and Edward McKenzie – were taken
into custody on Nov. 19, 2015, and charged in connection with an Aug. 30, 2012
public auction scheme. On Feb. 8,
Charleswell, 51, of Anna’s Retreat, who faced 14 charges stemming from the
incident, admitted his wrongdoing and pleaded guilty to the single count of
conspiracy. He has since been barred
from engaging in any future public auctions for several years.
Warner, 43, of
Est. St. Peter, who faced two charges – conspiracy and Criminally Influenced
and Corrupt Organizations Act (CICO) – in connection with the crime, also
pleaded guilty to a single charge of conspiracy at a change-of-plea hearing on
Feb. 3. The second count against him was
dismissed and he was sentenced to a period of one-year supervised
probation. Warner was also ordered to
pay fees and court costs.
On March 31,
McKenzie, 61, pleaded guilty to the single charge of compounding a crime and
was sentenced to a suspended jail term of 90 days, supervised probation for one
year and 100 hours of community service. In settling a civil CICO claim with the DOJ,
McKenzie also paid $100,000 to the Virgin Islands government.
Walker pledged the assistance of the Department of Justice in the property
auctions to be held throughout the territory over the next few weeks and said
DOJ’s involvement is to ensure transparency and fairness in the bidding
a result of the recent criminal cases prosecuted by DOJ concerning the real
property auctions conducted in 2012, DOJ special agents have become very
knowledgeable about certain illegal bidding practices that the auctioneer, in
this case the Office of the lieutenant governor, must be aware of to prevent
internal and external fraud at the auction,” AG Walker said in his prepared
statement. “The lieutenant governor is
providing the general public with an opportunity to own a piece of America’s
paradise and the Department of Justice will be there on auction day to assist
in whatever way that we can to ensure absolute fairness in the bidding
property auctions are scheduled for June 29 on St. Croix at the Juan F. Luis
hospital and on July 6 at the Windward Passage hotel for the district of St.
Thomas/St. John/Water Island.
DOJ agents will
be on hand throughout the entire auctions to monitor the bidding for the
purpose of detecting any illegal activity that may occur, according to AG
of Justice has already notified certain persons that they are banned from
participating in these auctions, personally or through an agent, because of
certain activities that these persons were involved in at past public
auctions,” AG Walker said.
AG Walker added
that DOJ’s participation will help to restore the public’s confidence in the
public’s confidence restored is important because we know buying real estate at
an auction for a very reasonable price – and in some instances at a discounted
or reduced price – is an appealing idea…” AG Walker said.
governor’s office will be auctioning a total of 65 properties – on St. Croix,
23 properties valued at $12 million with $1.1 million owed in taxes; on St.
Thomas, 36 properties valued at $16.7 million with $1.5 million owed in taxes;
and on St. John, six properties worth $15 million with $909,000 owed in taxes.