Sept. 2, 2003 – The Public Works Department will soon be the subject of at least a preliminary investigation into allegations of fraud taking place at high levels.
In a letter on Friday, Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone formally asked for an investigation into the matter by the Public Corruption Task Force. The task force, a joint effort of the V.I. Justice Department and the Office of the V.I. Inspector General, comprises three members: Attorney General Iver Stridiron, Inspector General Steven van Beverhoudt and the Internal Revenue Bureau director, Louis Willis.
Stridiron said he has forwarded Malone's letter to van Beverhoudt and has asked the inspector general to conduct a preliminary investigation into the allegations and then bring his findings before the other task force members. Then, the attorney general said, a decision will be made as to what further action is warranted.
Stridiron stated last week that the task force had taken no action up to then regarding the allegations raised in August before the Senate Finance Committee. The reason, he said, was that no investigation can be undertaken without a formal request.
The fraud allegations came to public attention on Aug. 5 during the Public Works Department's Fiscal Year 2004 budget hearing when Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste, a Finance Committee member, disclosed two letters alluding to corruption within the department. (See "DPW fraud charges aired at budget hearing".)
One of the letters was written by Randy Germain, Public Works deputy commissioner for operations, to van Beverhoudt. The other was written by Robert Moorehead, Public Works assistant commissioner, to his boss, Commissioner Wayne Callwood. Both letters alluded to the illegal use of government equipment to carry out work on private property.
Germain said on Tuesday that the allegations are indeed facts and that he had written a letter to the U.S. attorney about the situation as well. "I maintain that this department is infested with fraud and corruption [and] lack of management thereof," he said. "And it starts from the top with those who run the department."
Germain said he was assaulted on the job on Friday but would not comment further on the matter except to say that he will elaborate when the police report of the incident becomes available.
Calls to Moorehead and Callwood about the situation were not returned on Tuesday.
Sen. Usie Richards had prompted Malone — who chairs the Senate Government Operations Committee — to take action on the matter last week. (See "Senator finds reluctance to probe fraud claims".)
On Tuesday, Richards said he is still dissatisfied with Malone's response and still thinks that the Government Operations Committee should conduct an investigative hearing. "The more he delays his responsibility, the more corruption thrives in this department," Richards said.
Malone agreed last week to hold a hearing on Sept. 17 to take testimony on Public Works operations overall. An aide to the senator said Stridiron and a former judge had advised him that a Senate investigative hearing might have legal ramifications.
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