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Aug. 20, 2001 – The V.I. Inspector General's Office is looking to hire two lawyers, two investigators and other staff to beef up the Public Corruption Task Force and to provide more financial oversight of government agencies.
Meantime, the Attorney General's Office may be rehiring the former lead prosecutor of its White Collar Crime Unit as a liaison between the unit and the task force.
Inspector General Steven Van Beverhoudt said on Friday that he is looking to increase his office staff to 17 people from the current eight in the next few months.
"We'll be able to accomplish more than we have in the past," Van Beverhoudt, who has served as inspector general since 1989, said. "The good part of it is we'll be able to conduct more audits and more investigations."
Along with conducting routine audits and audits upon request by government officials, the Inspector General's Office has teamed up with the Attorney General's Office to form the Public Corruption Task Force. Its mission is to bring cases of government fraud to prosecution.
The task force has spearheaded several major investigations in the last two years, including the prosecution of former Gov. Roy Schneider on charges of misuse of government funds following Hurricane Marilyn, and more recently cases against former acting Health Commissioner Lucien Moolenaar and Tourism Department employee Susanna Riddle. The case against Schneider was dropped after prosecutors and the former governor agreed to a financial settlement. Moolenaar's case is pending; Riddle entered into a plea agreement.
Investigations have slowed since the task force's two lead white-collar crime attorneys left the Justice Department. The task force also has been hampered by having only a handful of investigators qualified to handle embezzlement cases.
Last week, Van Beverhoudt said he had the funds to hire a new general counsel for his office and that federal funds would pay for a prosecutor to head the task force. He said he also will be able to hire two investigators with white-collar crime experience, as well as other auditors and support staff to increase the ability of his office to handle the workload. One investigator will be assigned to the task force hotline to identify which tips might lead to criminal prosecutions, he said.
"You're never going to eliminate corruption," Van Beverhoudt said, "but having an aggressive prosecution will set an example — and make people think twice about doing it."
The Inspector General's budget has been decreased slightly for Fiscal Year 2002, but Van Beverhoudt told the Senate Rules Committee several weeks ago that he could live with that because of supplemental federal funding. Now, he said, funds allocated last year finally have been approved, giving him the green light to fill the vacancies.
Meantime, Attorney General Iver Stridiron said last week that his office is looking to hire at least one additional lawyer, and possibly two, to handle white-collar crime cases. He indicated that one of them could be Doug Sprotte, his former head of the White Collar Crime Unit.
At a press conference last Tuesday, Stridiron said that Sprotte, who resigned last October, had just been back on St. Thomas discussing the possibility of returning to the Justice Department. "Of course, we can't give him his old job back," the attorney general said. Winston Chen is now the unit's lead prosecutor.
However, Stridiron said if Sprotte were to return, he would make him the liaison between the unit and the Public Corruption Task Force, because Sprotte is familiar with many of the cases the task force is addressing.
Sprotte, reached at his home in Florida Monday, said, "I have talked with the Attorney General's Office, and although no firm offer has been made, I would take any such offer into consideration when and if it is made." He said that because of schedule conflicts, he didn't have a formal meeting with Stridiron while he was on island last week. However, he said, "I expect to talk to the A.G. in the near future and look forward to it."
Stridiron said last week that he hoped to have at least one additional lawyer on board by the end of September. With the help of the new investigators from the Inspector General's Office, he said, he expects to make progress in the government corruption cases.
Stridiron has said previously that the task force has received so many tips about possible corruption that the cases filed so far appear to be "only the tip of the iceberg."
Shaun A. Pennington also contributed to this report.

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