Oct. 22, 2003 Innovative Telephone is claiming that a report issued Wednesday by the Interior Department's Office of the Inspector General "clearly exonerates" the utility from charges that it did not remit in full funds collected from customers for the territorial government.
Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg had on several occasions publicly accused the telephone company of misstating the amount of money it collected to be placed into the Emergency Services Special Fund. A one-dollar surcharge per line was levied by the Legislature in late 1999, with Innovative responsible for its collection. The money is earmarked to help maintain and upgrade emergency medical services, fire protection and the 911 phone system. It went into effect in January of 2000. "This long and protracted investigation of the $1 tax collected by the telephone company has completely exonerated Innovative of any misuse of funds, misdirecting funds, withholding funds or from enriching itself," Innovative's vice president of corporate affairs Holland Redfield said in an official statement. "The report unconditionally refutes the many malicious and prejudiced accusations made by Senator Donastorg."
Redfield said that, in fact, his company had lost "more than $15,000" because many customers did not pay their bills but were counted in the amount owed and paid to the government. He said "thousands of dollars" in costs had been incurred by the company in administering the program. Donastorg dismissed the company's claims. He said the amount that Innovative said was due and paid to the government over the period the investigation covered (April 2000 to September 2002) was based on false numbers. "They submitted to the Public Services Commission that the total amount of loops that they had, or subscribers, was 60,000," Donastorg said. "But the Federal Communications Commission released information to the Inspector General, which they couldn't lie on, suggesting there were 69,000. So you have a differential of $9,000 each month.
Where did the $9,000 go? In someone's pocket?"
He said the total "differential" amounts to $256,380, expressed as "unrealized revenue" in the IG's report. It could actually be more like $400,000, Donastorg said.
"And you know what''s really ironic?" he said. "The PSC was satisfied with having this figure of 60,000 subscribers from back in 1992 and never questioned whether or not there's been any growth in the U.S. Virgin Islands."
The years-long and often bitter squabbling between Donastorg and Innovative has been marked with public denunciations, accusations of wrongdoing and legal challenges. More than a year ago it was revealed that the telephone company's parent, Innovative Communication Corporation, had conducted an investigation into the senator's personal life, which prompted a suit filed by Donastorg in federal court, according to the lawmaker.
Donastorg said he is getting ready to write to the United States Postal Service complaining that Innovative was culpable of mail fraud by sending out bills, collecting the money and not paying the government. "They utilized the U.S. Postal Service for their own financial gain," he said.
"Clearly, Senator Donastorg has a political agenda," Redfield said. "The damage that this type of irresponsible action brings to the private sector is immeasurably destructive and has a chilling effect on economic development in the Virgin Islands. If Innovative Communication has learned anything from this ordeal it is how one politician could do so much damage. This must rest on the shoulders of Senator Donastorg."
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