March 11, 2002 - Jamila Russell, a Licensing and Consumer Affairs official and well-known Democratic Party member on St. Croix, is free on $25,000 bail after being arrested for allegedly issuing five illegal professional licenses.
Russell, 30, special assistant to the DLCA assistant commissioner for boards and commissions, was arrested on a warrant Friday at her second job as a human resources manager at Triangle Construction, a Hovensa subcontractor. She appeared before St. Croix Territorial Court Judge Edgar Ross for her advice-of-rights hearing Monday. Russell is charged with filing or records of false instruments, fraudulent claims upon the government and conspiracy. A trial date has yet to be set.
In 2000, Russell allegedly issued a master electrician license to Glenroy Swanston; electrical contractor licenses to Peter John and Michael Dujon; and construction contractor licenses to Paris Terrell and Solomon Johnson, according to an affidavit filed by Abbigail Gunther, an investigator with the V.I. Inspector General's Office. None of the men had passed the required examinations to hold the respective licenses.
Licensing and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Andrew Rutnik said an internal investigation into Russell's activities began last year and then was turned over to the Inspector General's Office. Russell is currently suspended without pay from her job with the department, Rutnik said.
In a sworn affidavit from last November, Russell, who has worked at DLCA since 1996, admitted to issuing the licenses at the behest of a man named Claytus Prevost. In her affidavit, Russell said that in a conversation with Prevost in late November, she told him that she was called by Rutnik and accused of receiving money for issuing the licenses.
"I inquired as to certain monies that allegedly were paid for these licenses," Russell said in her statement. "[Prevost] did not respond. I also told him I wasn't going to jail for anyone."
Rutnik said Monday that Russell never admitted to taking anything for issuing the licenses. He declined to comment further on the case because it was still being investigated by the Inspector General's office.
Rutnik said the DLCA's computer system, which was installed at the onset of the Y2K scare, alerted officials to the illegally issued licenses. He said another possible case of fraud is being investigated.
"No one can issue a license without logging on and putting in certain information," he said. "We have security measures built in."
Prior to the new system, all licenses were logged by hand. Since the DLCA receives more than 20,000 licenses applications a year, the opportunity for fraud was rife, Rutnik said. Now, special computer software tracks everything, he said. "If it's in the system," he said, "we're going to get you."