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Justice Backs Senate Bill on Witness Protection

Justice Backs Senate Bill on Witness Protection
Jan. 17, 2008 — While the V.I. Department of Justice moves to put in place a full-fledged witness protection program, more has to be done to ensure that residents who come forward with information on major crimes are given as much security as possible, testifiers said during Thursday's Committee of the Whole hearing.
That includes closing off all meetings of the territory's Witness Protection Board to the public, and making all of the entity's records — except for those documents submitted to the Legislature — confidential, Deputy Attorney General Charlotte Poole Davis said, showing her support for a bill that's set to come up for a vote during next week's full Senate session. She added that the bill should also be amended to give Justice administrative oversight over the board's funds, which would be used to transport or shelter witnesses during an emergency.
"In past years, the public perception has been that if you speak up, you may lose your life," Davis said. "That's why this bill is so important: It addresses issues of confidentiality and assures the witness that he or she would not be risking their life to come forward."
The Witness Protection Board was established in a comprehensive crime bill passed by the Legislature and subsequently signed into law by Gov. John deJongh Jr. about six months ago. The board consists of the local attorney general, police commissioner and a case agent.
During Thursday's meeting, testimony was also offered on a bill that calls for senators to ratify about $3.8 million worth of purchase orders executed by V.I. Fire Services for "specialized essential equipment," such as trucks, radios and breathing apparatuses. According to Property and Procurement Commissioner Lynn Millin Maduro, most of the purchase orders have already been paid but need to be ratified by the Legislature because they did not go through the government's procurement process for services or items valued at more than $5,000.
"The law requires purchases over $5,000 to be in writing and approved by the commissioner of Property and Procurement," she said. "In order to have these purchases not considered null and ineffective — because they were not processed by Property and Procurement prior to receiving the equipment or services — they must be ratified by this body."
Fire Services Director Victor Browne said payments, worth about $383,000, are still outstanding to six vendors. In order for the money to be released from the Public Finance Authority, the Legislature has to authorize payment, he added.
Senators said that Browne would have to submit a list of all purchase orders and outstanding payments, before the bill comes up for approval during next week's full session.
Present during Thursday's meeting were Sens. Liston Davis, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Neville James, Shawn-Michael Malone, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, Usie R. Richards, James A. Weber III and Alvin L. Williams.
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