THOMAS, U.S.V.I. - A
team of Special Agents with the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Bureau of
Investigation, along with local and federal law enforcement officers, recently
conducted a territory-wide operation to verify important information of
registered sexual offenders.
During the Attorney
General Office’s initiative dubbed, “Operation Ponderosa,” which lasted
approximately eight days, the group – four DOJ special agents, program manager
of the Sexual Offender Registry Program, program territorial investigator from
the Sex Offender
Registration and Notification Act
(SORNA), five agents from the U.S. Marshals Service and four officers
from the U.S. Virgin Islands Police Department – conducted unannounced
inspections of registered sexual offenders living in the U.S. Virgin Islands for
the purpose of verifying their locations and other personal information, such
as their work and home addresses.
“We have told
the sex offenders that it is vital that DOJ receive accurate information and we
will regularly verify that information.
We need their cooperation for this to work properly,” Attorney General
Claude Earl Walker said.
AG Walker said
the “Operation Ponderosa” initiative is the Office of the Attorney General’s
effort at keeping the community safe from sexual predators.
“Sexual violence is a major problem, and so, the
registration requirements are created to reduce recidivism,” AG Walker
said. “The Virgin Islands has adopted a very
rigid notification system. We are not a
lenient jurisdiction because we know that registration reduces the
frequency of reported sex offenses against new victims by keeping police
informed about local sex offenders. So, this is a public safety tool to deter
convicted sex offenders.”
On St. Croix, the semi-annual
verification sweep was carried out from Feb. 26 to March 2 and targeted the 56
offenders residing on that island. During
the operation, 50 were found to be in compliance with the registration laws of
the U.S. Virgin Islands. However, one offender, although abiding by the
registration laws, was allegedly unlawfully growing marijuana plants and possessed
an authorized firearm. Of the other six,
one has been located on the U.S. mainland, and the whereabouts of three others was
verified and their information updated.
However, at the time of the initiative, two could not be found, but as
of today, those two absconders – Jonatan Montez and Wayne Graham – contacted
authorities on St. Croix. Montez has
informed DOJ that he is currently living and registered in Florida and Graham came
into DOJ to re-register.
have made it clear to all of them that who won’t hear will feel because we will
immediately go to the magistrate to get an arrest warrant,” AG Walker said.
team then headed to St. Thomas and St. John from March 26 to 28 to seek out the
sexual offenders living in that district.
During the exercise, 15 offenders on St. Thomas and six on St. John were
business days of arriving at a new location, a registered sexual offender must
notify the DOJ of his/her name, residence, temporary lodging information,
vehicle information, Internet identifiers, telephone numbers, school
information and employment status.
According to AG
Walker, special agents routinely perform the task of tracking registered sexual
“Sex offenders who
fail to comply will find out that there are significant negative consequences
for them if they either fail to report or give DOJ misinformation,” AG Walker said.
Last year, AG
Walker revised an existing policy requiring that all sex offenders in the territory
must also notify DOJ when traveling inter-island, between St. Thomas and St.
In 1997, the U.S. Virgin
Islands enacted its first sex offender registration statute and in 2006, the
Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 was enacted by Congress.
Title I of that Act is known as the Sex Offender Registration and Notification
Act or SORNA. This Act established a new baseline standard for states to track
sex offenders, which required more unity and cooperation among jurisdictions in
the registration and notification process. The purpose of SORNA is “to protect
children from sexual exploitation and violent crime, to prevent child abuse and
child pornography, to promote Internet safety, and to honor the memory of Adam
Walsh and other child crime victims.”
On July 18, 2012,
amendments were made to the local sex offender statute and the Sexual Offender
Registration and Community Protection Act was signed into law in the U.S. Virgin
Registered sexual offenders in the territory may be prosecuted for either
failing to register or not keeping their registration current, as required by
this law, and if convicted, the penalty is a fine of not less than $3,000.00
nor more than $5,000.00, or imprisonment for not less than three months nor
more than two years, or both. The law also provides that it is an offense to
assist a sex offender to evade the registration requirements, which carries a
fine of not less than $1,000.00 nor more than $2,000.00, or imprisonment for
not more than six months, or both.
records show that currently, there are 119 sex offenders living in the
Territory – 57 on St. Thomas, 54 on St. Croix and eight on St. John. As of today, one offender, David Phillips, is
currently listed as an absconder.
Authorities are still searching for him.