A man hired to prosecute white-collar crime had the courage this week to utter what we have all known and turned a blind eye to year after year: There is little will to stop public corruption.
"I've never seen a government where there is such a complete divorce between authority and responsibility. And because of that divorce, there is no accountability." That's what Boyd Sprehn said this week. He is not the only one to say such things. But Sprehn dared to go on the record.
In February 2000, after charging former Gov. Roy L. Schneider with fraud, Attorney General Iver Stridiron and former white-collar crime prosecutor Douglas Sprotte promised that it was just the beginning. Stridrion said there was a stack of cases sitting on his desk, that he was "astonished" by the number of cases.
It is now more than a year later. Why have these cases not seen the light of a courtroom?
In a recent press conference, Stridiron admitted his personal distress at knowing many people who have become involved in what he called "troubling" and "widespread" corruption in the territory, but said it would not stop him from prosecuting them.
Now there's another excuse: the shortage of prosecutors. In the time it will take to hire another prosecutor (Stridiron said at the same press conference he could use 10 more) and familiarize him or her with the cases, more money will be bled out of the public coffers, and the people of the Virgin Islands.
And why not? There have been no consequences for thievery and corruption in high places in the V.I. — or even in low places.
The solution: give the Inspector General the money he has been begging for to hire more investigators. He is waiting for approval from Gov. Charles W. Turnbull on a $300,000 budget increase. Stop wasting time: Give the man the money. That $300,000 could save the territory millions.
And do what the people asked for almost four years ago by a nearly 3 to 1 margin: make the position of attorney general an elected position.
We believe Attorney General Stridiron was sincere when he said the governor does not interfere with his decisions about prosecuting cases, and we also believed him when he implied past governors and high officials did meddle.
The inspector general, on the other hand, cannot be removed from office short of committing fraud himself and is immune to changes in administrations. We need to give the attorney general the same sanctuary.
Remember these numbers? In 1998, 13,998 Virgin Islanders voted in a non-binding referendum that the attorney general be elected by the people. Those voting against it numbered 4,988. Whenever the 24th Legislature settles down and begins to do the people's business, we hope they will consider what the people who elected them want most.
In the meantime, we challenge Attorney General Stridiron to dig into that stack of cases and take them into court.