Nov. 8, 2007 — Two prominent former commissioners and a St. Thomas construction contractor were indicted by a federal grand jury Thursday on conspiracy, bribery, and obstruction of justice charges, officials said.
Former Department of Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Dean Plaskett, 42, and former Department of Property and Procurement Commissioner Marc Biggs, 42, were charged with "demanding and accepting a series of bribes and kickbacks in exchange for awarding approximately $1.4 million in government contracts and then authorizing over $1 million in progress payments, despite little or no work having been performed," according to a written statement from U.S. Attorney Anthony J. Jenkins.
The charges, handed down in Virgin Islands District Court, St. Thomas-St. John Division, include conspiracy to violate the federal bribery statute and commit honest services mail fraud, as well as multiple counts of federal program bribery.
Plaskett and Biggs were also charged with multiple counts of obstructing justice, along with Leroy L. Marchena, president of St. Thomas-based Antillean Contractors & Developers.
The men allegedly attempted to thwart the joint federal and local investigation into the bribery and kickback scheme, Jenkins said.
When reached on his cell phone, Plaskett said he had no comment and referred Source reporters to his attorney, Gordon Rhea.
If convicted on all counts, Plaskett faces a maximum of 82 years in prison and a $2 million fine, Biggs faces a maximum of 37 years in prison and a $1.25 million fine, and the 66-year-old Marchena faces a maximum of 45 years in prison and a $750,000 fine. All three defendants also face restitution and criminal forfeiture in excess of $1 million.
Both Plaskett and Biggs held their government positions under former Gov. Charles Turnbull, and the alleged schemes apparently involved others as well.
Hollis L. Griffin, the former DPNR Director of the Division of Environmental Protection; former Virgin Islands Fire Service employee Earl Brewley; and Atlanta businessman Esmond Modeste have pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate the federal program bribery statute, honest services mail fraud, and structuring currency transactions in furtherance of the underlying bribery and kickback scheme.
Griffin was sentenced to four years in prison, Modeste was sentenced to 30 months in prison, and Brewley was sentenced to 21 months. The three were also ordered to pay approximately $1.1 million in restitution.
Most recently, former DPNR Director of Permits Brent Blyden pleaded guilty to conspiring to obstruct the joint federal and local investigation into the bribery and kickback scheme. He faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine, $125,000 in restitution, and $20,000 in criminal forfeiture.
According to court documents, in early 2000, Griffin, Brewley, Modeste, and others formed a sham business by the name of Elite Technical Services and then used the entity, as well as other companies, to seek and be awarded at least seven government contracts valued at approximately $1.4 million, Jenkins said. The contracts were authorized and awarded by Plaskett, Biggs, Griffin and Blyden, and although little or no work was performed, they authorized progress payments totaling over $1 million to Elite and the other companies.
Once the contracts were paid, Modeste, Brewley, and others kept a portion of the illicit proceeds for themselves and paid cash bribes and kickbacks totaling between $300,000 and $350,000 to at least four government officials including Plaskett, Biggs, Griffin and Blyden, said Jenkins.
In January 2005, Plaskett, Marchena, Blyden, Modeste, Griffin and others then allegedly tried to hide the scheme by obstructing any federal or local investigation, Jenkins said.
The 41-page indictment also calls for Plaskett, Biggs and Marchena to forfeit any money they may have made off the scheme. It was not clear when a trial might start.
Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.