April 3, 2007 — Over a period of four years, Alric Simmonds, deputy chief of staff to former Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, siphoned off nearly $1 million from a local government account for his own personal use, a representative from the Inspector General's Office said Tuesday during a hearing held in V.I. Superior Court.
According to Nicholas Peru, Simmonds was a signatory on the checking account, which was set up at Banco Popular for the Bureau of Economic Research (BER). While the account was intended to hold federal funds awarded to the agency for the proposed universal health care program, Simmonds used it as a means to divert money from other government accounts, Peru said.
Using information gleaned from Peru's testimony and various court documents, Superior Court Judge Brenda J. Hollar found probable cause to hold the charges against Simmonds, who was arrested around 12:45 p.m. Monday and charged with embezzlement, conversion of government funds and grand larceny.
Simmonds was brought on as Turnbull's chief of staff in 1999, at a salary of $64,000 a year. However, Simmonds was pulling in an annual salary of $80,000 by the time he abruptly retired in October 2006.
As the certifying officer for the government, Simmonds had access to several government accounts and was responsible for signing off on various payment documents, such as checks or miscellaneous disbursement vouchers.
"However, any payment made out of a government account via a check or miscellaneous disbursement voucher should be accompanied by an invoice or receipt, which can be sent to the Department of Finance, so the account can be replenished when funds are used," Peru explained.
He added that the Inspector General's Office, over the course of a seven-month investigation, could not find any such documents to back up a series of checks written by Simmonds from the bureau's account. Over the course of about four years — from December 2002 to August 2006 — Simmonds wrote a total of 228 checks made payable to himself or to cash, ranging from $1,000 to $13,000, for a total of $909,151, Peru said.
According to court documents, no payee was listed on two $5,000 checks written in 2005. "Also, very few of the checks said what the money was being used for," Peru said. "Some of them said transfer or bush cutting, but the rest of them said nothing."
He added that a few of the checks were made out to other individuals or companies and carried the supporting documentation.
Attorney Ariel Smith, representing Simmonds, asked Peru whether the Inspector General's Office was able to determine how the funds were spent once the checks had been cashed. "There is nothing that would indicate that his checks were not written in good faith or that he tried to secret anything," she said.
"I don't know what the cash was used for," Peru responded. "But it's not very normal for people to use that amount of cash for government purposes without leaving a paper trail."
Smith's argument also did not convince Hollar, who subsequently advised Simmonds of his rights and set his arraignment hearing for 9 a.m. on April 12.
Throughout the hearing, Simmonds remained silent and inert, only moving to talk to Hollar or his attorney. Dressed in a pale green shirt and dark khakis, Simmonds kept his head down, with both hands — bound by handcuffs — resting in his lap.
While Hollar did uphold the $55,000 bail requirement set by the court after Simmonds' arrest, she also said that Simmonds, if able to post bail, would be required to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet, surrender his passport and other travel documents and report daily to a probation officer.
In order to avoid a higher bail requirement, Simmonds agreed to remain at home, instead of reporting back to work and being released into the custody of his employer, who had agreed to serve as a third-party custodian.
Attorney Lofton P. Holder, representing the government, asked Hollar to set bail at $250,000, since Simmonds could be considered a flight risk. "$900,000 makes a person very transient — able to go places," Holder said. "He could be in Tahiti tomorrow and stay there for a very long time."
Smith assured Hollar that Simmonds is not likely to leave the territory, since he will be putting up a piece of his own property as collateral. "He will be losing his home if he fails to appear," she said.
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