March 3, 2004 – The five defendants indicted last month on corruption charges in connection with a sewer repairs contract pleaded innocent to all charges at their arraignment Wednesday morning in District Court on St. Thomas. Through their attorneys, all asked for a jury trial.
The 16-count indictment alleges that Ohanio Harris, former special assistant to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull and former deputy police chief on St. Croix; Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, former senator; Campbell Malone, post auditor of the 23rd Legislature; attorney Ashley Andrews; and Hansen's husband, Esdel Hansen, conspired to obtain money corruptly through a no-bid contract between the V.I. government and the St. Croix firm Global Resources Management to make repairs to St. Croix's broken-down sewer system.
The indictment returned by a grand jury sitting on St. Thomas last month charges the five with conspiring over nearly three years to obtain the multimillion-dollar contract through fraudulent means. And it charges Andrews and Malone with submitting a false claim — some six months after the contract was canceled — for expenses incurred in preparing a proposal for it. (See "5 Indicted for conspiracy in sewage contract".)
A smiling Alicia Hansen, resplendent in a black suit jacket, white skirt and high-heeled gold sandals, swept past reporters as she entered District Court accompanied by her husband, Harris and attorney Treston Moore. Malone and Andrews had arrived individually earlier, unaccompanied by legal counsel.
All of the defendants sat on one side of the courtroom together except for Malone, who was seated across the aisle by himself.
Through their attorneys, the Hansens, Harris and Malone asked for a "speedy" jury trial. Stephen Brusch is representing Andrews, and Leonard B. Francis is representing Malone. Moore represented Alicia and Esdel Hansen for the arraignment proceedings.
None of the defendants have been placed under arrest. However, U.S. Magistrate Geoffrey W. Barnard asked each to post $10,000 unsecured bail, which all did. They were then released on their own recognizance, under directives to report to a probation officer and not to leave the territory without permission during the pre-trial proceedings.
To the apparent surprise of several onlookers in the courtroom, Harris asked for a court-appointed attorney. Barnard assigned Patricia Schraeder-Cooke of the federal Public Defender's Office to represent Harris in Wednesday's arraignment proceedings.
Schraeder-Cooke said later that Harris would be represented by the Office of the Federal Defender and that she could not give out further information. Barnard said Harris would have to submit an affidavit attesting to his financial need for a court-appointed lawyer.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Curtis Gomez, who has been nominated to fill the position of sitting District judge on St. Thomas, will represent the federal government in prosecuting the case. His nomination to the bench could take many months to wend its way through the congressional review process.
Moore said in court that his appearance on behalf of the Hansens was for "today only." Later, outside the courthouse, Moore said he could not say if he would continue to represent them. "They may need separate attorneys," he said. "With a husband and wife, there are lots of issues involved. There are a lot of issues they need to talk about, and we need to talk about with them, and there are cost factors involved." He said his representation on Wednesday was for a "limited appearance while all factors are worked out."
In court, Moore took issue with Barnard on the bail issue. "None of the defendants is under arrest," Moore said, "so the bail is inappropriate." He said, "A judicial summons means you don't need to arrest. I don't want my clients arrested; so, we usually work that out with the court."
Moore asked for documentation of all grand jury testimony and all statements "so I can advise (the Hansens) if they need separate outside counsel."
Alicia Hansen is accused of accepting a $1,000 campaign contribution in exchange for getting the Legislature to pay out $25,000 to Global Resources Management for what the indictment says was a fraudulent claim.
The indictment also charges that the former senator had known the claim was false. It also points out that her husband was hired by GRM the same month — March 2002 — that she secured payment to the company of the $25,000. GRM had no assets at the time, according to the indictment.
Alicia Hansen said in radio statements on Feb. 24 that the prosecution was politically motivated. At a March 2003 press conference, she had charged that the governor's cancellation of the GRM contract "racially motivated."
Esdel Hansen is accused of submitting information to Malone stating he did $240,100 worth of work on the contract proposal. The retired Public Works employee said he worked 1,372 hours at $175 per hour, the indictment states.
The case began on Jan. 23, 2003, when U.S. Attorney David Nissman, in cooperation with the Environmental and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, filed an emergency motion in District Court asking Judge Thomas K. Moore to order the V.I. government to show cause why it should not be stopped from proceeding with the $3.6 million sewer system repairs contract that Turnbull had signed on Dec. 20 with GRM.
The next day, Judge Moore set a hearing date of Jan. 30. The contract at issue was for various repair projects that Moore in December 2001 had ordered the V.I. government to complete by mid-2002, then had in all instances but one extended to Dec. 30, 2003. (See "Judge finds 'reek of politics' in sewage contract".)
All five defendants are charged with one count of conspiracy. Andrews, Harris, Malone and Esdel Hansen are charged with four counts of wire fraud. Harris and Alicia Hansen are each charged with one count of program fraud. Andrews is charged with two counts of program fraud; he also is charged with inducing a conflict of interest and with two counts of fraud against the government. Alicia Hansen is charged with accepting a bribe and conflict of interest. Harris and Andrews also are charged with conflict of interest.
Maximum statutory penalties for the various charges are as follows: Conspiracy – five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Wire fraud – 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Program fraud – 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Bribery of public officials – five years in prison and a $1,000 fine. Making fraudulent claims – two years in prison and a $500,000 fine. Accepting a bribe – five years in prison and a $1,000 fine. Conflict of interest carries a minimum of one year and a maximum of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
According to the court calendar, the case could go to trial as early as May; however, sources say that given the number of defendants, that is unlikely.
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