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Wednesday, July 6, 2022


At the end of almost 14 hours of testimony and debate, including allegations of bribery and intimidation on the part of businessman Jeffrey Prosser's associates, the controversial land-for-tax-breaks so called ‘Prosser deal' bill passed by a vote of eight to seven.
The revised bill calls for Prosser to give 1,000 acres of land on St. Croix to the V.I. Government plus $4.5 million for improvements to the land, and to finance the development of certain public projects to be built on existing government land. In exchange, Prosser's Innovative Communications Corp., and its shareholders, would receive full tax breaks for 30 years.
The 1,000 acres is part of the Carambola property in the north central section of the island. Prosser has an option to purchase 2800 acres.
Early in the day Sen. Allie-Allison Petrus accused ICC Vice President John Tutein of trying to bribe him during the 1998 campaign. Under questioning by St. Croix Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen hours later, Tutein, who was at the hearing representing Prosser, called Petrus's accusation "a damn lie."
Petrus also pointed out that one section of the bill calls for rezoning of 475 acres out of 1,000 that was set aside in 1983 for scenic preservation.
Sam Raphael, businessman and legislative assistant to Sen. David Jones of St. Croix, testified that the day after he publicly came out against the deal he got a call from the president of V.I. Community Bank, owned by Prosser, "and he talked to me in a way I've never heard before." Raphael said a few days later he received a letter threatening to foreclose on his mortgage.
Under the terms of bill no. 23-0060, Prosser would give a maximum of $9.5 million for the public projects, which include a drag strip, baseball complex and a turnkey housing project on St. Croix, a library on St. Thomas and a community center on St. John. The bill also mandates that Prosser build a 300-room hotel and convention center on St. Croix.
Attorney Lee Rohn of St. Croix testified that though the bill estimates the tax breaks to Prosser's companies to be worth approximately $180 million, given the current growth rate in the telecommunications industry, the breaks could translate, over 30 years, into over $3.5 billion.
Prosser's telecommunications companies include V.I. Telephone Corp., VitelCellular and V.I. PowerNet.
"I have no problem with exchanging taxes for certain things, but in this case we know what we're getting, but we don't know what we're giving," Rohn said.
Rohn also said the bill was in conflict with the Telecommunications Act of 1996 because it would give unfair advantage to one company over another. She warned passage of the bill could force the V.I. Government to have to give similar breaks to all telecommunications companies doing business in the territory.
Rohn further warned that though the terms of the bill include Prosser building a hotel on the Carambola land, on which he currently has an option — a piece of the deal that would provide economic stimulus for St. Croix — he forfeits nothing if he doesn't build it.
Attorney Kelvin Rames, one of Prosser's representatives, admitted there was no deadline for building the hotel because of unknown factors, such as the process of obtaining permits.
None of Prosser's representatives, who also included St. Croix businesswoman Ann Abramson and attorney Joel Holt, could provide financial information on Prosser's companies when asked by several senators.
The lines were drawn earlier in the week when Hansen circulated a petition calling for a Committee of the Whole meeting to take testimony and vote on the bill. The petition was signed by Sens. Almando "Rocky" Liburd, Donald "Ducks" Cole and all of the St. Croix senators except Senate President Vargrave Richards. All of the petitioners voted in favor of the bill.
Petrus made a motion toward the end of the proceedings calling for an independent financial assessment of the bill. The motion did not carry.
Neither Jeffrey Prosser nor Rudolph Krigger, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's assistant on Fiscal Affairs and the governor's point man on the bill, attended the hearings, though they were called to testify.
The bill now goes to the governor for his signature. Though Hansen and Bryan pushed for the vote to take place immediately because Prosser's option to buy the Carambola property ran out Friday, the governor has been given 30 days to review the bill.
If Turnbull vetoes the bill it would require a two-thirds vote in the Senate for passage.
The senators who voted in favor of the bill were:
— Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen
— Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole
— Sen. David S. Jones
— Sen. Gregory A. Bennerson
— Sen. Adelbert M. "Bert" Bryan
— Sen. V. Anne Golden
— Sen. Norman Jn. Baptiste
— Sen. Almando "Rocky"Liburd

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