Schneider, Maureen Bryan, his former executive assistant, Alvin Battiste, former director of budget and financial management for the governor's office, and Dean Wallace, acting commissioner of Finance during the Schneider administration, were all charged Tuesday morning in Territorial Court. Their first court appearances are expected later this week.
The charges stem from payments made after Hurricane Marilyn when the four allegedly conspired to pay a $29,000 bill at Frenchman's Reef for a room occupied by Walter Brunner, who was on contract with the V.I. government and was a personal friend of Schneider's. The room was held in the name of Jean P. Greaux Jr., then Schneider's electronic media specialist and a "legitimate essential government employee," according to court documents.
According to the filings, Brunner was "not then, nor had he ever been, an essential government employee." In fact, Brunner was widely known as Schneider's behind-the-scenes spin doctor.
Greaux told investigators that he never spent one night in the room where Brunner racked up a total of $36,272.95 in charges.
The hotel housed many federal and local government employees after the 1995 hurricane caused widespread destruction in the Virgin Islands.
Brunner lived in the room from September 1995 until March 14, 1996, according to court documents.
Supporting documents indicate that $25,333.61 was paid to the Reef for a room occupied by Bryan, but no charges have been filed with respect to that hotel bill.
Tuesday's charges allege that Schneider submitted a request to pay the Reef for a room occupied by Greaux, knowing that Brunner, not Greaux, was the occupant.
Bryan then told Battiste to draft a memorandum to Finance saying Greaux was the occupant of the room. Bryan, too, knew that Brunner was staying in the room, the documents allege. Battiste did as he was asked, also knowing that Brunner, not Greaux, had used the room.
Paulette Rabbsatt, director of accounting for Finance at the time payment requests were filed, had twice rejected requests for payment because they were inappropriate, according to supporting documents. But when Wallace took over as acting commissioner, he said he would take care of the requests.
Rabbsatt was subsequently fired in November 1998 and Wallace ordered another employee, Delores Hodge, to process a $67,076.48 payment to Frenchman's Reef on Dec. 29, 1998, just days before Schneider — defeated in his bid for re-election — left office. That $67,076.48 payment included $29,402.55 for Brunner's room and $19,265.39 for Bryan's.
Tuesday's charges were filed in Territorial Court one hour before Attorney General Iver Stridiron and Inspector General Steven Van Beverhoudt held a press conference to announce the formation of the V.I. Public Corruption Task Force and to disclose the first set of high-level corruption charges.
Stridiron and Van Beverhoudt said this case was only the beginning of many more to come.
Stridiron said the current criminal cases would be processed like any other criminal proceedings. "There is nothing unusual (about these cases) but the names," he said.
The two offices have been working together for a year to form the joint task force.
Asked how many cases he expected to investigate under the new agreement, Stridiron said he had been handed a "stack" of files. "I was astonished by the number of cases being forwarded," he said.
Anyone with information about fraud, corruption, fiscal mismanagement or embezzlement by or against government employees or private individuals has been asked to call the task force office at 774-3388.
Along with the investigations, the task force will implement a public relations campaign to encourage government employees who see fraudulent activities to report them and to train department managers in how to detect criminal activities.
For a full copy of the affidavit and the charging document against Schneider and the three other officials, see Community/Data.