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HomeNewsArchivesSenate Still Under Scrutiny; Russell Won’t Out Wrongdoers

Senate Still Under Scrutiny; Russell Won’t Out Wrongdoers

Senate President Ronald Russell has backed away from his pledge to name names connected with the highly damaging audit of the Virgin Islands Legislature released in November 2011.

Citing “several ongoing federal and local investigations into legislative activities,” Russell said, “it has been determined that it is best for the institution not to disclose information outside the subpoena process or at least until these investigations have been concluded.” In a written statement released Thursday, he also said the institution has corrected many of the audit findings.

The audit, issued jointly by the federal Inspector General’s Office of the Department of Interior and by the Virgin Islands Inspector General’s Office, describes an anything-goes culture of spending without accountability and concludes that the Legislature cannot properly account for nearly $7 million in taxpayer money spent over a six-year period.

As is common practice, the audit does not use names. In some limited cases, it is possible to deduce a name from the information in the reference, but in most cases it is unclear. As president of the current (29th) Legislature, Russell has been under considerable pressure to release the background documentation that would make it clear which sitting and/or former senators and staff were involved in which questionable practices.

The audit spans the years 2005 through 2010, during which there were three different Senate presidents: the late Lorraine Berry (26th Legislature), Usie Richards (27th Legislature) and Louis Hill (28th Legislature). According to the Inspector General, the audit was requested by “both the incoming and outgoing senate presidents of the 28th Legislature” and the fieldwork was conducted from February to December 2010.

One finding is that numerous contract employees were paid without a shred of documentation that they ever performed any service. And some were actually paid more than the contract called for.

In one instance, an individual received $29,600 on a $20,000 contract, for allegedly developing strategies for protecting the health and welfare of the aging. In another case, a person received $19,500 – not the $12,000 called for in the contract – for weekly reports and proposals for legislative action related to the fishing industry. In neither case could the auditors find any written information from the contract employees.

Other findings include:

  • More than $1.5 million in bonuses, ranging in amounts from $100 to $10,500, were given to staffers from 2005-2010, with no policy in place to govern amounts given or criteria for selecting individuals to receive bonuses;
  • “Cash advances” to senators for travel “were routinely abused” and in one case, a senator failed to account for more than $93,000;
  • A review of payments to 35 vendors, revealed that 20 of the vendors never even had a contract with the Legislature, nor was there any written justification for their selection, but the combined payments to them totaled $1.1 million;
  • Controls over sensitive equipment were so lax that even with legislative officials helping them, auditors were unable to locate 352 items on a list of 1,206 things that should have been on legislative premises.
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