Gov. Kenneth Mapp has worked hard, is highly knowledgeable and has some accomplishments as the eighth elected governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands. But he has a long-established pattern of highly questionable financial dealings going back long before his election as governor and continuing up to the present day.
Some involve taxpayer money. Some involve private business money. Mapp’s money has been funny ever since 1999 and 2000 when (bankrupt former) Vitelco owner Jeffrey Prosser paid Mapp more than half a million dollars with no legitimate reason ever made public. Re-electing the governor would reward that misbehavior and signal an open season on self enrichment to future U.S. Virgin Islands elected officials.
And there is a viable alternative in the form of Democrats Albert Bryan and Tregenza Roach; two highly experienced, highly educated technocrats who lack the Mapp/Potter administration’s ethical baggage.
Right now Mapp is embroiled in a lawsuit over his assigning a V.I. government nurse to take care of his ailing mother. (Hat-tip to the V.I. Daily News for breaking that story.) When caught, Mapp said other administrations assigned staff to their first ladies, and as a single man, he could not do so. There is no evidence this is true. The previous administration did not do so. But even so, the ethical difference is obvious. A first lady actually has some ceremonial role as a stand-in for the head of state. Assigning a full-time government nurse to a family member with no government role whatsoever is just taking a free, additional health care benefit.
The governor is already among the highest paid U.S. governors. Taking care of family is good. But spending government money and reassigning government employees to do it for you at taxpayer expense is grifting. His family is his own responsibility. And the government has a shortage of nurses in its schools. Taking one for himself deprives Virgin Islanders of services they paid for.
Both Mapp and Lt. Gov. Osbert Potter were involved in highly questionable backroom deals to pay for luxury housing for themselves. Mapp could, and by law, should, live at Government House when on St. Thomas. And he owns a home on St. Croix. But Earlier on, Mapp arranged to have WICO pay exorbitant rent for him at a luxury villa on St. Thomas, then backtracked when found out. His own Property and Procurement commissioner rejected payment for the rental before his advisor Randy Knight got WICO to foot the bill- and take it out of WICO’s debt to the government. Knight told senators Mapp is instead spending even more government on his personal living arrangements by staying in nice hotels and billing the government.
Potter is embroiled in controversy for first, getting the government to pay his rent on St. Thomas, then, when legal counsel determined that was improper, allegedly pressuring a subordinate to loan him money to pay the government back. The V.I. Daily News published photos of money orders from Potter to the subordinate employee ostensibly to repay the loan. Why is the $125,000 per year Virgin Islands lieutenant governor paying secret debts with money orders? This is not normal. This does not breed confidence.
Mapp issued an executive order in 2016 purporting to make the previously illegal rent payments for Potter legal and now the government is simply paying Potter’s rent. On paper, the Legislature controls the government’s purse strings, not the governor.
Mapp knows using government funds for private benefit is improper. He had his attorney general prosecute his predecessor for spending government funds on a guardhouse at his private home. Those charges were ultimately dismissed and deJongh paid the money back. Unlike Mapp’s housing and family nursing expenses, those funds did go through the appropriation process.
In the first year of the Mapp administration, several news outlets reported on Mapp spending tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on highly questionable personal purchases, reimbursed without receipts and without any suggestion of a legitimate government purpose. They included eating and drinking at Chris’s Hideaway, No Bones Cafe, Cheeseburger in Paradise, Savant and other local eateries and bar and more than $1,200 for a steak dinner in New York. Some of the V.I. spending was well after midnight. Soon after, there were reports of spending more than $5,000 just on linens, purportedly for Government House on St. Croix.
Mapp fired the attorney who provided the credit card records in response to a V.I. Open Records Act request and that was the last the public saw details of Mapp’s personal use of government credit cards.
In 2016, Mapp asked the Legislature for an appropriation to buy new luxury “ceremonial vehicles” to be chauffeured around the territory in. The Legislature, mindful of appearances in the midst of a fiscal crisis, instead passed a measure expressly prohibiting the governor from using money in its appropriation for ceremonial vehicles. Mapp line-item vetoed the section prohibiting him from buying the vehicles. The Legislature overrode the veto. Mapp decided he was allowed to buy cars anyway, billing more than $300,000 to the budget of the Office of the Governor for two armored Chevy Suburbans and two Cadillac XTS sedans, each tricked out with $40,000 in special features.
Mapp’s funny business with money began well before he was elected governor. Jeffrey Prosser, bankrupt former owner of Innovative Communications, had Innovative affiliate St. Maarten Cable TV pay Mapp $25,000 per month for two years, starting just after Mapp left office as lieutenant governor in 1999. The payments came to light in sworn depositions in a lawsuit filed by Adlah “Foncie” Donastorg in 2002. One testifier called the money “training payments” but Mapp was never offered a job at Innovative nor trained. Mapp gave a deposition acknowledging the payments, saying they were for “consulting” but refused to say what he did for more than half a million dollars in payment. Mapp was attending school stateside during the period he received the money. One Innovative employee swore in her court deposition that either Prosser or Tom Minnich informed her Mapp “was being paid not to run for governor.”
Whether Prosser really paid Mapp half a million dollars not to run for governor is difficult to know for certain. What is certain is the payments were fishy, out of the ordinary and Mapp has never offered any legitimate explanation.
Mapp has had accomplishments as a governor. He managed to make budgetary ends meet for three years, despite a massive structural deficit and despite an inability to borrow on the private market. Administration officials like to point out the government got an infusion of $200 million through ArcLight Capital’s purchase of the shuttered Hovensa refinery on St. Croix. This is true, although how much of that is due to Mapp’s personal genius versus the territory simply having something to sell that someone wanted to buy is an open question. ArcLight and Limetree Bay have generated jobs and revenue since that deal happened and there is hope for a partial, small-scale restart of part of the old refinery. Mapp’s campaign trumpets these private industry decisions as administration accomplishments. That may be self-serving. But they are not failures. And they benefited the territory.
Mapp has made deals to restore the territory’s horse tracks, although those are delayed long past the short time frame promised at the time.
He and administration officials dutifully worked with federal officials to maximize the amount of aid in the wake of last year’s hurricanes. His campaign gives him great credit for the federal government’s largesse. And he did not drop the ball on pleading the territory’s case.
Mapp has a lot of executive experience and a trove of knowledge about the territory. Many on St. Croix in particular are his ardent supporters. He is a well-known incumbent and an experienced campaigner. He might well win. If he does, we will support him whenever he is doing well for the Virgin Islands and hold his feet to the fire if he is not.
But Mapp also has a long history of sketchy personal monetary dealings and a pattern of bending the rules to use government resources to benefit himself. It sends a bad message to reward that with a second term.
Of the several other candidates, polling and the well-established V.I. voter preference for the Democratic Party suggest Bryan is the only other candidate with a plausible chance. Mathematically, voting for a candidate with no chance of winning amounts to a vote for Mapp. Bryan has extensive experience in V.I. government and executive level management too. He’s a fresh face with fresh ideas. Running-mate Tregenza Roach has been a thoughtful, deliberative and informed voice during his time in the Legislature.