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Investigation into Alleged Hate Crimes Still Going

Dec. 2, 2005 – The federal government's investigation into alleged hate crimes on St. John should wrap up in two to three weeks, Gov. Charles Turnbull learned recently through a letter from a federal official.
However, even after this investigation wraps up, there may not be answers in the Esther Frett rape case, to the racial epithets written on her car and the arsons at Close Reach Imports store and Bob Sells' vehicle, according to Chris Swecker, the assistant director of the Criminal Investigative Division at the federal Attorney General's office.
"At this point, the Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division will determine whether further investigation is warranted and/or whether there is sufficient evidence of a prosecutable violation of the federal hate crimes or other civil rights statutes," Swecker wrote in his letter to Turnbull.
He said that investigators have conducted numerous interviews and forensic examination and identified the need for further investigative steps to conclude the investigation.
Swecker said that on Oct. 28, all reports developed so far from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the National Park Service, and the V.I. Police Department were sent by the FBI to the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney's office in the Virgin Islands for their review.
"I want to assure you that this investigation is a high priority," Swecker wrote.
He said to the governor that his letter was in response to Turnbull's Sept. 29 letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, written just days before the Oct. 1 arrival of St. Croix activist Mario Moorhead and his 26 associates. They came to hold a march, rally and restaurant sit-ins in hopes of forcing St. John business owners into pressing the FBI for answers. They were unsuccessful.
They returned to hold a shop-in at Starfish Market on Nov. 23 with the same goal. The FBI did meet with them via videoconferencing, but provided no concrete answers.
Many people on St. John as well as across the territory are still waiting for answers.
"It's very frustrating to all of us who would like to know the truth and have some resolution in the matter that's been so divisive," St. John resident Bonnie Blair said.
St. John Administrator Julien Harley said that the only difference between this announcement and what the federal government has said all along is that it gives a time frame. He said he doesn't know if this will put an end to the sit-ins and demonstrations.
St. John resident Ivy Moses said the federal government should expedite its investigation to get the answers to St. John residents sooner.
"Waiting two to three weeks after waiting several months is way too long," she said, adding that even if it turns out that there is no one to prosecute in the Frett rape case, residents at least need to know that.
Referring to the fact that the community is divided in its opinion over whether the rape actually happened, Moses said St. John will just have to agree to disagree if the investigation doesn't turn up any suspects.
She said if the federal government doesn't come up with any answers, it will further divide an already divided community.

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