Home News Local news Defendant in Property Auction Scheme Fined $500,000

Defendant in Property Auction Scheme Fined $500,000

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Attorney General Claude Walker at a recent senate hearing (photo by Barry Leerdam courtesy of the V.I. Legislature)
Attorney General Claude Walker in an April photo, testifying at a V.I. Senate hearing.. (Photo by Barry Leerdam, provided by the V.I. Legislature)
Attorney General Claude Walker in an April photo, testifying at a V.I. Senate hearing.. (Photo by Barry Leerdam, provided by the V.I. Legislature)

The Department of Justice announced it has settled its civil claims against Paul Sabers, one of four conspirators who admitted to participating in a public auction scheme to defraud the government.

In July the 66-year-old Sabers, a businessman and property developer, pleaded guilty to taking part in a scheme that occurred between Jan. 18, 2012, and June 26, 2013. He was charged with conspiracy, obtaining money by false pretense, conversion of government property and violations of the Criminally Influenced and Corrupt Organizations statute, the DOJ announced in a weekend news release.

On July 24, Sabers appeared before Superior Court Judge Michael Dunston and pleaded guilty to the single count of compounding a crime. He was sentenced to a suspended jail term of 90 days, supervised probation for one year and 100 hours of community service.

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He also paid $500,000 in penalties associated with his case, and agreed to refrain from personally participating or associating with any real estate agent, broker or other person for purposes of participating in any property auction conducted by the Office of the Lieutenant Governor.

Attorney General Claude Earl Walker called the civil actions brought in this prosecution a first.

“What is deeply disturbing about the allegations is that in the Virgin Islands, a person’s home is usually his most valuable asset that is acquired after years of hard work and saving, and that is why I intended to pursue a civil action. This is an unprecedented civil settlement under CICO, which reflects the continued commitment of the Attorney General’s Office to protecting the interests of Virgin Islands residents by pursuing such matters conducted by the Office of the Lieutenant Governor,” Walker said.

Justice Department spokeswoman Corliss Smithen said the civil sanctions were part of the penalty imposed.

“In addition to the criminal sanctions, DOJ also brought civil charges against Sabers under title 14 VIC Section 607(a). The Attorney General is granted authority to institute civil proceedings to obtain relief from conduct constituting a violation of CICO. Civil penalties may reach a maximum $1 million,” Smithen said.

Sabers, along with co-defendants Sylvester Warner, Calford Charleswell and Edward McKenzie were charged in connection with manipulating bids during an LGO property auction that took place on Aug. 30, 2012.

The work of a special investigator in the Office of the Inspector General led to the prosecution of the four defendants. The investigation revealed that certain procedural changes made by officials at the office of the lieutenant governor allowed the defendants to play out their scheme. As a result, other bidders were kept from making legitimate bids on properties offered for sale at auction.

Saber’s co-defendants also admitted to being part of the conspiracy and have since been sentenced. McKenzie, 61, pleaded guilty to compounding a crime and was sentenced to a suspended jail term of 90 days, supervised probation for one year and 100 hours of community service.

“In addition, DOJ settled its civil claim against him and he has paid $100,000 to the government,” Smithen said.

Warner, 43, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy. He was sentenced to one year of supervised probation and was ordered to pay $75 in fees and court costs.

Charleswell, 51, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and was sentenced to one year in jail. He also was ordered to serve two years of supervised probation, complete 100 hours of community service and pay $675 in fees and court costs.
As a result of criminal activity, government officials cancelled all sales in the 2012 auction and scheduled new rounds of bidding this year. Officials also have put new rules into effect in an attemp to protect the integrity of the auction process. (See Related Links, below.)

 

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