June 25, 2004 – This week, for the second time in four months, four former V.I. officials or their lawyers entered pleas of not guilty to charges of bribery, fraud and conspiracy relating to the government contract awarded Global Resources Management in 2002 for sewage system repairs on St. Croix.
After having been indicted by a federal grand jury sitting on St. Thomas last February, Ohanio Harris, former assistant to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, and Campbell Malone, a former legislative post auditor, were back in District Court on Wednesday to respond to a superseding indictment handed up by the same panel on June 10.
So were lawyers representing former Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen and her husband, Esdel Hansen, a former Public Works Department employee.
The fifth defendant in the case, St .Croix lawyer Ashley Andrews, did not appear at the Wednesday re-arraignment, nor was he represented by counsel. Another date is to be set for him to respond to the superseding charges.
The allegations against all five relate to a $3.6 million contract awarded to GRM without bidding in December 2002 under a state of emergency declared by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull. The U.S. Attorney's Office, which went to court the following month to challenge the awarding of the contract, described Global Resources as a company with one employee, no bonding, no equipment and no track-record in the work it was contracted to do.
Turnbull canceled the contract two days before a hearing set by District Judge Thomas K. Moore on the complaint, but Moore heard the case anyway and in March 2003 issued a scathing 60-page opinion in which he accused the governor of placing politics above both the law and the public interest in the administration's repeated failures to deal with the disastrous state of St. Croix's sewage system. (See "Judge Finds 'Reek of Politics' in Sewage Contract".)
On Feb 20 of this year, the grand jury handed up a 16-count indictment accusing the five defendants of federal and territorial crimes including conspiracy, wire fraud, bribery and conflict of interest relating to the GRM deal. (See "5 Indicted for Conspiracy in Sewage Contract".) In March, all five entered pleas of not guilty.
The superseding indictment for the most part repeats the allegations laid out in the earlier document. It also contains two new counts.
One charges that Alicia Hansen solicited and accepted a $1,000 contribution to her gubernatorial campaign "with the intent to be influenced and rewarded" in connection with a $25,000 contract from the Legislature to GRM.
The other alleges that Andrews employed Esdel Hansen "with intent to influence and reward an agent of the V.I. government" in connection with such a contract. Esdel Hansen was GRM's director of utilities.
Slight modifications of language in eight of the other counts state more specifically the times and/or places at which actions are alleged to have occurred.
One count initially charging that Andrews, Malone and Esdel Hansen presented a fraudulent claim for expenses associated with the terminated contract is modified in the superseding indictment to specify that the claim was presented to the governor and the attorney general.
Another count initially accused Harris of conflict of interest by serving as president and acting of behalf of GRM while holding public office. The superseding version alleges that he served as "president, partner and agent" of GRM at the time the company sought government contracts. Harris, a special assistant to Turnbull at the time the contract was awarded, also was the company's first chief executive.
Two initial counts accusing Andrews of "inducing conflict of interest" and Alicia Hansen of "conflict of interest" refer to Alicia Hansen's "securing" the $25,000 contract from the Legislature. In the superseding indictment, they indicate that she "validated" the payment "because GRM planned to make a $1,000 campaign contribution to Alicia Hansen's campaign and because GRM employed Esdel Hansen."
The June indictment alleges that the defendants conspired "to make as much money as possible" from the V.I. government. About December 2000, it charges, Harris, Andrews and "others" met on St. Croix "to discuss the formation of GRM," agreeing to share any profits.
In the winter of 2001, the document states, Harris began using his influence as Turnbull's special assistant to obtain benefits for Andrews and GRM including "payments for services performed." In June 2002, it says, Harris met with Turnbull to "discuss awarding a sewer contract to GRM." According to the indictment, it was after this meeting that GRM applied for a construction contractor's license — which was granted on July 24.
The indictment also charges that around this time Esdel Hansen joined GRM as director of utilities and GRM received $25,000 from the Legislature, apparently for consulting services.
Harris, according to the indictment, met over the summer of 2002 with Property and Procurement Commissioner Marc Biggs, Public Works Commissioner Wayne Callwood and other government officials to "discuss how these departments could coordinate their efforts in expediting the award of a sewer construction contract on St. Croix to GRM."
The grand jury charged that less than six months after Turnbull canceled the contract, Esdel Hansen, Andrews and Malone submitted fraudulent claims for expenses associated with the terminated project. According to the indictment, Esdel Hansen and Malone falsely claimed putting in "at least 1,372 hours at a rate of $175 per hour on contract preparation matters."
If convicted of all charges, the defendants could face maximum penalties as follows:
Ashley Andrews — 64 years in jail; $2.25 million in fines.
Alicia Hansen — 42 years in jail; $1 million in fines.
Esdel Hansen — 27 years in jail; $1 million in fines.
Ohanio Harris — 40 years in jail; $755,000 in fines.
Campbell Malone — 30 years in jail; $1 million in fines.
According to the District Court clerk's office, a trial date has not been set.
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