ST. THOMAS, V.I. – The Department of Justice (DOJ) has settled its
civil claims against Paul Sabers, one of four conspirators who admitted to
participating in a public auction scheme to defraud the government.
66, pleaded guilty to taking part in the scheme that occurred between January
18, 2012 and June 26, 2013, in which the Office of the Lieutenant Governor
(OLG) initiated a series of real property auctions. He faced four charges – conspiracy, obtaining
money by false pretense, conversion of government property and Criminally
Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (CICO) – in connection with the crime. On July 24, Sabers appeared before Superior
Court Judge Michael Dunston and pleaded guilty to the single count of
compounding a crime. He was sentenced to
a suspended jail term of 90 days, supervised probation for one year and 100
hours of community service.
DOJ also brought
civil charges against Sabers. Under
title 14 VIC Section 607(a), the Attorney General is granted the authority to
institute civil proceedings against any person in the Superior Court to obtain
relief from conduct constituting a violation of CICO, and the civil penalty may
be as high as $1,000,000. In accordance
with an agreement entered into with the DOJ, Sabers has paid $500,000 to the
Government of the Virgin Islands. He
also has agreed to refrain from personally participating or associating with
any real estate agent, broker or other person for purposes of participating in
any property auction conducted by the Office of the Lieutenant Governor.
on the resolution of Sabers’ criminal and civil cases, Attorney General Claude
Earl Walker stated, “We believe at the Attorney General’s Office that in the
Virgin Islands, we will have one set of rules for everybody – no matter how
rich or powerful. What is deeply disturbing about the allegations is that
in the Virgin Islands, a person’s home is usually his most valuable asset that
is acquired after years of hard work and saving, and that is why I intended to
pursue a civil action. This is an unprecedented civil
settlement under CICO, which reflects the continued commitment of the Attorney
General’s Office to protecting the interests of Virgin Islands residents by
pursuing such matters.”
all, four men – Sabers, Sylvester Warner, Calford Charleswell and McKenzie –
were taken into custody on Nov. 19, 2015 and charged in connection with the
public auction scheme, which occurred during an Aug. 30, 2102 property bid
conducted by the office of the lieutenant governor.
investigation by Nicholas Peru, special investigator in the office of the
Inspector General, led to the apprehension of the four. In his affidavit supporting the arrests, Peru
gave the following details:
property auction was conducted on Aug. 30, 2012. Charleswell, who worked as Chief Enforcement
Officer in the lieutenant governor’s office, oversaw the property auction. One of the properties being auctioned was 97
Est. Frydenhoj, on which the opening bid was placed at $6,442.28. The first
bidder offered $75,000, a second person bid $42,000 and the third bid was
$10,100; however, the bidder tracking sheet prepared by Charleswell showed that
there were only two bidders on the property, according to Peru.
unwritten policy developed by officials in 2012 required that the three highest
bidders be recorded in the event that the highest bidder failed to meet the ten
percent deposit amount, but the day after the auction, the winning bidder did
not make the required deposit and the second highest bidder should have been
contacted, Peru wrote.
Sept. 4, 2012, a deposit of $2,000 was paid on a bid that was not noted on the
record and on Oct. 11, 2012, a man paid the balance of $8,000 on the Est.
Frydenhoj property and the office of the lieutenant governor transferred the
property to that man for $10,000. Then, on Sept. 25, 2013, the man transferred
the same property to another man, according to Peru.
woman whose name appeared on the bidder tracking sheet told Peru that she accompanied
Warner to the auction and he completed the registration form using her name,
but used his address. She said Warner bid on the Frydenhoj property and told
her that he was bidding for a friend. On the day of the auction, Warner bid on
three other properties, but although he was the highest bidder, he failed to
pay deposits or take any of the properties, according to Peru.
investigation revealed that certain procedural changes made by officials at the
office of the lieutenant governor allowed individuals to fraudulently
manipulate the bidding process in a scheme in which the highest bidder
purposefully makes a substantially inflated high bid, then fails to post the
ten percent deposit so that the property would go to another bidder or
individual for a substantially low price, Peru wrote.
manipulation prevented potential bidders from making fair and legitimate bids
on properties offered at public auctions and potentially reduced the likelihood
of the property owner recouping any excess proceeds from the sale after taxes
and fees are paid, according to Peru.
other three men have also admitted to their role in the conspiracy and have
since been sentenced. McKenzie, 61,
pleaded guilty to 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 addition, DOJ settled its
civil claim against him and he has paid $100,000 to the government.
43, of Est. Peter, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy for which he was
sentenced to supervised probation for a period of one year and was ordered to
pay $75 in fees and court costs within the first six months of his probationary
51, of Anna’s Retreat, pleaded guilty to a single charge of conspiracy and will
be spending one year behind bars. He was
also sentenced to two years of supervised probation, ordered to complete 100
hours of community service and pay $675 in fees and court costs within the first
year of his probation.