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HomeNewsArchivesSimmonds Pleads Guilty to Embezzlement, Faces 20 Years in Prison

Simmonds Pleads Guilty to Embezzlement, Faces 20 Years in Prison

Nov. 20, 2007 — Former government aide Alric V. Simmonds has accepted an open plea agreement that could put him in jail for 20 years on charges of embezzlement, conversion of government funds and grand larceny.
But V.I. Superior Court Judge James S. Carroll III made it clear Tuesday that he could sentence Simmonds to serve the maximum amount of time for each count and pay up to $200,000 in fines.
Simmonds pleaded guilty to eight counts of embezzlement, one count of conversion and two counts of grand larceny during a hearing in Superior Court Tuesday. According to law, the maximum sentence for one count of embezzlement or grand larceny is 10 years with a $100,000 fine, prosecutors said. The conversion charge carries a maximum sentence of five years.
The plea agreement, which was filed in Superior Court Friday, recommends a 25-year jail term with five years suspended. While Simmonds told the judge that he was not coerced into signing off on the deal, Carroll cautioned that Simmonds would be giving up certain rights if he decided to plead guilty.
"If you plead guilty, I can still sentence you to any term within the range of the statute," Carroll said. "That means you could be facing a period of 10 years on each of the embezzlement counts, each of the grand larceny counts and five years on the one count of conversion. I'm not saying that I’m going to do it, but if the facts warrant it, you could be sentenced to the max."
Simmonds, former deputy chief of staff to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, said he understood. When the charges were read, he kept his head high as he pleaded guilty to each count.
Carroll asked prosecuting attorney Denise George-Counts to give a "factual basis" to support each of the charges, which are laid out in three separate court cases. Simmonds was first arrested last April, then again in June, but has not been arraigned on the third case, which — as in the first two instances — charges Simmonds with diverting hundreds of thousands of dollars from the government for his own personal use.
If each of the cases went to trial, George-Counts said, the prosecution could prove Simmonds' guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt" using a series of documents, check stubs and testimony from current and former government officials, including Charles W. Turnbull, James O'Bryan, Bernice Turnbull, Juel Molloy and Lauritz Mills.
Case One
During a hearing in April, Nicholas Peru, special agent with the V.I. Attorney General's Office, laid out the case against Simmonds. Over the course of about four years, Peru said, Simmonds funneled nearly $1 million from a government account, writing a total of 228 checks made payable to himself or to cash. The checks ranged in amount from $1,000 to $13,000, for a total of $909,151.
Peru has testified that no supporting documentation has been found to back up the checks, which were written against an account set up for the Bureau of Economic Research (BER) and originally meant to hold money set aside for the universal health-care proposal. In his position as Turnbull's deputy chief of staff, Simmonds was a signatory to the account, as well as several others, and was responsible for signing off on various payment documents, such as miscellaneous disbursement vouchers, Peru said.
No payee was listed on two $5,000 checks written in 2005, according to court documents.
At the April hearing, V.I. Superior Court Judge Brenda J. Hollar set Simmonds' bail at $55,000 and ordered him to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet upon release, surrender his travel documents and report daily to a probation officer.
Case Two
Simmonds found himself back in the courtroom in June, this time facing a series of charges, including conspiracy. From Feb. 20, 2004, to Aug. 17, 2006, Simmonds issued 41 checks — all written against the same BER account — to one Yasabel Marillo, George-Counts said Tuesday.
"16 of the checks had no notation, but the rest said they were issued for 'cleaning services,'" George-Counts said. "This individual never performed any work for the government of the Virgin Islands. So in short, the checks were issued to a false vendor."
Before Tuesday's hearing, the identity of Simmonds' co-conspirator had not been revealed to the public, and was only referred to in court documents as "Val." During a hearing held in June, Peru said agents were concerned about the number of checks being written to "Val," which amounted to an additional $230,610.
Hollar increased Simmonds' bail to $100,000 at the June hearing after being told the co-conspirator's identity. Defense attorneys have said Simmonds' has posted his house as collateral. (See "Accused Embezzler Faces New Conspiracy Charges.")
Case Three
Simmonds has not yet been arrested on the third set of charges, George-Counts said Tuesday. The government plans to consolidate all three cases for the purposes of the plea agreement, the prosecutor said. Despite the consolidation, Simmonds would still have to pay back in full what he took from the government, she added.
After speaking with his attorney, Harold Willocks, Simmonds agreed to waive being arraigned on the third set of charges. Simmonds has gone over the new filing and is "aware of all charges against him," Willocks said.
The government could prove that between February 2005 and June 2006, Simmonds used government funds to purchase "several products and services" for his own personal use, George-Counts said.
"One check, in the amount of $8,000, was written out to V.I. Granite and Marble for the construction of counter tops in Mr. Simmonds' personal home," she explained. "Another was made out to Gemini Design for the construction of cabinets. Over $46,000 was given to Jennifer Santana for the purchase of lottery tickets and other personal services. We have confirmed that Ms. Santana is a lottery dealer. An additional $19,000 worth of checks were made out to Francesca Santana for the purchase of lottery tickets. So these funds were used by Mr. Simmonds, but not for government purchases."
After listening to George-Counts' arguments, Carroll said that there was factual basis to uphold the charges. He also accepted the terms of the plea agreement and accepted the prosecution's motion to consolidate the cases. However, it is not yet known what sentence Carroll will hand down when Simmonds appears before the court again April 3.
If Carroll upholds the plea agreement, Simmonds would have to serve 20 years in prison, pay nearly $1.3 million in restitution to the government and forfeit his real and personal assets. He must also forfeit, assign or otherwise pay to the government 75 percent of his retirement, social security or pension payments during any period of incarceration. After being released from jail, Simmonds would have to pay the government 25 percent of his income until the restitution payments are satisfied.
The April sentencing date will give the government time to find out exactly what Simmonds' assets are, George-Counts said. Simmonds will also have to cooperate fully with the government and provide any information he has "regarding any unlawful activity and acts involving corruption by government officials."
The government will not wait for Simmonds to testify against any other officials, George-Counts added. Instead the government will concentrate on gathering Simmonds' financial information, liquidating his assets and conducting follow-up interviews with the inspector general.
In the meantime, Simmonds will remain out of jail until sentencing, posting his house to meet the $100,000 bail requirement.
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