In an emotional speech at his sentencing on Thursday, former director of the V.I. Internal Revenue Bureau Louis “Lolo” Willis maintained that his signing of tax clearance letters for Gerard Castor Sr.’s Balbo Construction, which evaded almost $120,000 in taxes over a four-year period from 2004 to 2007, was not a conspiracy between him and Castor.
On Thursday Presiding Judge Michael Dunston sentenced Willis, 57, to two years of incarceration and a $5,000 fine for conspiracy to evade or defeat tax, and a concurrent sentence of two years of incarceration and a $5,000 fine for aiding and abetting willful failure to collect or pay over tax.
It was not clear at the sentencing if the two charges, which Willis was convicted of by a jury on August 21, overlapped to the extent that he will be allowed to serve them concurrently.
Dunston said he delivered the sentences separately “to be safe.”
Willis is already serving a five-year prison sentence on four counts of bribery and extortion in a separate federal case, which is under appeal.
Willis has admitted to signing the tax clearance letters that kept Balbo Construction in business illegally when he was head of the IRB, but he has stated that he had no knowledge of the company’s tax returns. At the time Balbo had large government contracts and Willis said during his trial that it was important to keep them working.
Willis was acquitted in August of assisting in filing Balbo’s false or fraudulent tax returns.
“I knew nothing, nothing whatsoever,” said Willis, in reference to the company’s tax evasion.
Defense attorney Treston Moore attempted to use the argument that his client signed the clearance letters without knowledge of Balbo’s tax status to get Willis a light sentence of only probation or community service. The two charges Willis was convicted of carry no minimum sentences.
“He thought he was helping the people of the Virgin Islands by helping businesses generate income to balance the budget,” said Moore.
Evidence was presented during the trial that revealed Willis had signed clearance letters during years when Balbo had not filed a tax return at all.
Castor was arrested along with Willis in February of 2014. He pleaded guilty to one count of willful failure to collect or pay over tax under a plea agreement. As part of that deal he paid back $100,000 of the $119,804.18 in tax that Balbo owed to the IRB.
Throughout his trial, Willis was “somewhat aggressive in his involvement” in his defense, according to Moore and Dunston.
“I’ll fight and will continue to fight,” said Willis during his lengthy courtroom speech on Thursday. “If I disrespect you in any way I’m sorry, but I had to get it out.”
Willis was close to tears when mentioning his separation from his wife and family, who he said “know he is innocent.”
“I’ve been in the courts’ hands for the last 18 months and I’m tired,” he said.
Moore said, “My client’s not a bad man. He has strong feeling about what he did and didn’t do.”
Dunston said Willis’s apology to the court was unnecessary since his “aggressive involvement” in the trial had never seemed to him to be disrespectful.
Prosecution argued that Willis’s sentencing should be harsh given his position as a public official, his “abuse of power and dereliction of duty,” and his seeming lack of remorse.
The prosecution said Willis’s actions were a “willful act of selfishness, self-dealing and corruption,” and that his statement that he had committed no crime was “preposterous.”
The prosecution recommended a sentence of four years of incarceration and a $10,000 fine for each count. It was also recommended that Willis pay the $19,804.18 balance of Balbo’s tax liability not repaid by Castor.
Dunston’s sentencing halved the prosecution’s recommendations. He also exempted Willis from paying Balbo’s balance.
“To impose that balance on Mr. Willis does not appear to the court to be appropriate.”
After the sentencing Willis was returned to authorities to continue serving his federal sentence.
The defense has 30 days to appeal the decision.