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Judge Sets Monday Deadline for VIPA, Hotels to Pay

Sept. 8, 2006 – Superior Court Judge Leon Kendall ruled Thursday that the V.I. Port Authority, along with Ritz-Carlton St. Thomas and Caneel Bay Resort, have until Monday to pay up to $100,000 in fines associated with a ruling he sent down in early June.
After a show cause hearing in March, Kendall found that VIPA, along with the two hotels, had been violating the franchise operation of the V.I. Taxi Association at the Cyril E. King Airport by "systemically abusing" a voucher system that requires passengers to verify whether they have prepaid for alternative taxi service or packaged tours offered by outside vendors (See "Taxi Association Wins Judgment Against VIPA, Two Resorts").
In June, Kendall ordered the three defendants to pay $1,000 a day beginning March 1 "until such time as they comply" with the agreement.
While Ritz-Carlton attorney Charles Engeman argued during another show cause hearing held Thursday that the June ruling did not stipulate when the fines should be paid, Kendall ordered VIPA and the two hotels to hand over the money by the "close of business" on Monday.
The Port Authority will also have to pay $8,135 in retroactive sanctions, which VIPA attorney Henry Carr III said could hurt VIPA financially. "I guess we'll have to find the funds from somewhere though," Carr said Friday.
VIPA board members have said over the past few months that the authority's finances are currently "in the red," due to increased operating costs. Thus, in an effort to contest the large fine, VIPA recently filed an appeal to overturn Kendall's decision.
However, during Thursday's hearing, Kendall said that VIPA, along with the other defendants, had to comply with the June ruling, since a motion had not been filed to "stay the ruling" until after the appeal process was complete.
Kendall did not make a decision on another motion recently filed by V.I. Taxi which states that VIPA, Ritz-Carlton, Caneel Bay and East End Taxi Association have, since June, continued to violate the franchise agreement.
Attorney Terri Griffiths, representing V.I. Taxi, said VIPA, in particular, has "willfully and flagrantly" continued to disregard the franchise agreement. "Their actions have not drastically changed since the June 13 ruling came down, and they have failed to enforce the voucher system," she said.
Griffiths added that VIPA's franchise monitor – a port official responsible for checking passenger vouchers at the airport – has not responded to complaints generated by V.I. Taxi members who claim that the hotels, along with East End Taxi, have continued to send drivers to the airport to pick up passengers.
To support these claims, Griffiths called a number of V.I. Taxi representatives to the stand Thursday, and presented several pictures taken in June of Ritz-Carlton and Caneel Bay vehicles that had appeared "on a weekly basis" to shuttle passengers to the hotels.
The testimony prompted many objections from Engeman, Carr and other attorneys representing Caneel Bay and the East End Taxi Association. While Kendall overruled many of the objections, Engeman still made a point of asking each testifier appearing on behalf of V.I. Taxi whether they had "bothered" to ask passengers whether or not they had completed a voucher or prepaid for alternative taxi service.
"We have been discouraged to ask the passengers whether or not they have completed the vouchers," said V.I. Taxi member Alan Richardson. "But we have gone to the franchise monitor and told him our complaints"
When put on the stand, franchise monitor Darren Canton said he frequently checks to see whether or not passengers have vouchers or have prepaid for taxi service.
"One of the things that was agreed on after the ruling came down is that V.I. Taxi would designate a representative to come and talk to me on a regular basis about their complaints," he said after the hearing. "That has not happened, so I haven't been disclosing what's been going in terms of checking the vouchers."
During the hearing, V.I. Port Authority Executive Director Darlan Brin said that copies of all vouchers issued to passengers are sent to VIPA. However, Brin could not say whether or not Caneel Bay and Ritz-Carlton have been issuing vouchers, since he is not "intimately involved in the day-to-day operations" of the airport.
Both Brin and Canton said the hotels and other outside taxi vendors have been issued copies of a new voucher document developed by the port after Kendall's ruling came down in June.
Kendall said he was "disappointed" in the actions of VIPA and the "hotels' CEOs," and asked court marshals to issue a warrant for the arrest of Brad Jencks of Ritz-Carlton, who Engeman said is in Hawaii.
Kendall said he had "issued papers" for Jencks to appear during Thursday's hearing.
While Kendall did not make a decision Thursday on the motion filed by V.I. Taxi Association, Carr said a ruling is expected shortly.
"We'll see what happens," he said Friday. In the meantime, VIPA intends to move forward with the process to appeal the ruling Kendall sent down in June, Carr added.

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