Louis Willis didn’t appear to cry, but many others in the courtroom wiped back tears Thursday morning as the former Bureau of Internal Revenue director was sentenced by V.I. District Court Judge Curtis Gomez to five years in prison for extortion and bribery.
Willis was found guilty last November on four counts — two each of federal programs bribery and extortion under the color of official right — stemming from contracts and kickbacks he took for work done at the Legislature while he was executive director.
Charges of federal programs bribery carry a maximum sentence of up to 10 years, while each extortion count could have put Willis away for more than 20 years. Willis was initially charged on six counts, three relating to each contractor named in the case.
In the end, however, jurors convicted Willis on bribery and extortion charges associated with contractors Alvin Williams Sr. and Frank James, who both had contracts with the Legislature during Willis’ tenure from 2009-2012. Jurors found Willis guilty of accepting at least $13,000 in bribes from contractors in exchange for more than $350,000 worth of guaranteed work at the Legislature, including major renovations to the building.
“The defendant’s role in the criminal scheme was extensive; he was the organizer and leader of the criminal enterprise,” prosecuting attorneys said of Willis in sentencing memorandums filed before Thursday’s hearing. “Absent his power, there would have been no crime.”
The memorandum also mentions that Willis has never “accepted responsibility for his crimes.”
“The defendant has never, even after being convicted by a jury of his peers, offered a hint of remorse for his conduct,” according to prosecutor Justin Weitz. “He has never sought to apologize to the people of the Virgin Islands for depriving them of the honest services he, as a public official, owed them. He is not embarrassed by his conduct.”
Taking the stand before sentencing Thursday, Willis still offered no apology, but instead spoke for almost an hour about his dedicated service to the “people of the Virgin Islands,” who he said he was trying to “help save.”
The room was packed to capacity with everyone from community members to sitting senators, and while Willis did not appear to be emotional while on the stand, many, including Senate President Neville James, did wipe away tears when Gomez handed down the sentence.
Willis was taken into custody when the hearing adjourned.
“Public corruption tears at the fabric of any society that operates under a system of laws,” U.S. Attorney Ronald Sharpe said in a statement released after the hearing. “That is why it is one of the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s highest priorities. Willis’ corrupt and criminal acts violated the public trust. Fortunately, through the hard work of our local and federal law enforcement partners, he has been held accountable. Today’s sentence should serve as a reminder to public officials of the consequences when they seek to use their office for personal gain and unjust enrichment.”