Aug. 8, 2003 – Former Property and Procurement Commissioner Dean Luke and his former employee Charles Bornman have been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of bribery and extortion relating to a federal program for the repair of hurricane-damaged roofs.
The charges, handed up on Thursday by a grand jury sitting in the St. Thomas division of District Court, are in connection with the Federal Emergency Management Agency-sponsored roofing program that followed Hurricanes Marilyn and Bertha.
The indictment is the culmination of several months of investigation into the program by the federal Homeland Security Department's Office of the Inspector General and other federal investigators, according to the U.S. Attorneys Office. FEMA now falls under the Homeland Security umbrella.
The indictment alleges that Luke and Bornman misused their positions in Property and Procurement to solicit payments from roofing contractors. One charge states that both men solicited $25,000 in payments from construction contractors who worked for the Home Protection Roofing Program. Another complaint asserts that Bornman, who now works for the Public Works Department, "corrupted" the roofing program by accepting more than $65,000 in false payment vouchers from another contractor.
"When extortion or bribery enters the public contracting process, prices go up and available services go down as a result," U.S. Attorney David M. Nissman said in a release. "Thus, the community gets less than it is entitled to."
Nissman added: "All must work together to stop this from occurring."
The Home Protection Roofing Program was responsible for distributing more than $30 million in FEMA money for recovery operations in the Virgin Islands following Hurricanes Bertha and Marilyn. About 90 percent of that money got spent on roof repairs from October 1997 through February 2001.
Roofing contractors would submit vouchers for payment to the government, but sometimes the work never got performed. Some contract money was never released, so some construction companies stopped work, leaving roof work partially done.
According to the indictment, Luke and Bornman in some instances worked together in defrauding the federal government. One charge alleges that Luke was involved in soliciting a loan for Bornman. In other instances, it is alleged that Bornman acted alone.
There may be other charges to come concerning improper use of FEMA funds by other government workers, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Azekah Jennings was unwilling to comment about that.
"This indictment pertains only to these particular defendants at this particular time," Jennings said. I cannot comment where there will be other indictments, and I can't comment on any other pending investigations by the U.S. Attorney's Office."
Bornman came to the Virgin Islands days after Hurricane Marilyn struck the territory in September 1995. He worked for 10 months as an adviser to the Planning and Natural Resources Department under a technical assistance contract from FEMA, from October 1996 through July 1997. Then he took over managing the roofing program, which had continual problems accounting for and distributing federal money.
In an interview with the Source in February 1999, Bornman said he stayed with the roofing program despite its problems "because I believe in the program … I saw that a $30 million program was being screwed up. With my background, I knew I could help. I felt the people applying for the grant money had an entitlement. These are real people, and I deal with them every day. I really wanted to help."
If convicted of the bribery charge, both Bornman and Luke could face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The maximum penalty for extortion is 20 years in prison and a fine that is twice the amount gained from the crime.
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