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Prosser Security Head Testifies He Dealt in Cash

Aug. 29, 2008 — Acting St. Croix Police Chief Oakland Benta took the stand on St. Thomas Thursday in the ongoing bankruptcy case of Jeffrey Prosser, testifying to his knowledge about the many disputes in the case gleaned from his nine years as Prosser's head of security, including the matter of the $15,000 a month in cash he managed for Prosser. Prosser is in Chapter 7 bankruptcy, and Vitelco parent company ICC in Chapter 11. (See: "ICC, Prosser File for Bankruptcy") and "More Data Emerges on ICC Bankruptcy; But Questions Remain".)
Benta, hired as special assistant to Police Commissioner James McCall, has been acting St. Croix Police Chief for several months while Police Chief Thomas Hannah is on medical leave. Benta created and then served as head of Prosser's security department from 1998 to 2007, he told the court.
Of particular interest to attorneys for Prosser's creditors and those of the Chapter 11 and Chapter 7 trustees, overseeing respectively his former company ICC and his personal estate, were numerous ICC checks to Benta, identified in company ledgers as for "logistical support."
In a previous hearing, Eling Joseph, Prosser's executive secretary of 19 years, and Ingrid Christian, a forensic accountant working for Springel, both testified that Prosser had ICC spend tens of millions of dollars on sporting-event tickets, airline travel, hotel stays, jewelry, clothing, fine dining and cash payments for Prosser's wife, children, personal friends, personal servants and others, without any discernible legitimate business reason. Joseph also said Prosser pocketed over $100,000 in ICC funds by having ICC cut checks to an employee named Anthony Paul, who cashed them for Prosser. (See: "Prosser Admits Lying to Bankruptcy Court About Jewelry Costs.")
But Benta dealt in cash and in most cases without receipts or any paper trail.
Benta said ICC issued the checks to him, he would cash them, travel ahead of Prosser and pay security assistance hired at the location in cash. Following are some of the questions and answers in the courtroom Thursday, presided over by U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Judith Fitzgerald.
"All of your expenses for logistics were paid in cash?" asked William Stassen, an attorney for the federal Chapter 7 trustee in charge of Prosser's estate.
"All of them, with the exception of one or two," Benta said.
"Chief Benta, was there ever a time when you would be traveling and Mr. Prosser would ask you for any of the cash he gave you?" asked James Lee, another attorney for the Chapter 7 trustee.
"Never," Benta said.
Lee displayed a check entered into an ICC ledger from ICC to Benta for $5,000, dated Dec. 15, 2001.
"Do you see the register where it says: 'Purpose: Advance for CEO?'" Lee asked.
Benta said he did.
"Did you ever deliver the funds?" Lee asked.
"No sir," Benta said.
Lee then displayed an ICC fax listing the same check number and amount, with the first names Linnea and Delilah signed on the bottom.
"Who are Linnea and Delilah?" Lee asked.
"They are the ones who assigned the checks for the company," Benta said.
Lee then had Benta read the fax, which stated "These funds are for Mr. Jeffrey Prosser. He would like for Mr. Benta to bring it to the airport when he gets here on Saturday. Thank You."
"You still say you never gave cash to Mr. Prosser?" Lee asked.
"That is my testimony," Benta said.
At another point, Lee asked how often Benta received these checks for cash.
"Frequently," Benta replied.
"But at least twice a month and it went on for years and they were almost always $8,000?" Lee asked.
"That is correct," Benta said.
"Chief Benta, as a police officer, do you have any knowledge as to why $10,000 is a line of demarcation for cash transactions?" Lee asked.
"No sir." Benta replied.
Signs posted inside U.S. banks declare currency transactions over $10,000 must be reported to the IRS.
Stassen asked Benta about his police training. Benta said he has FBI training, U.S. Secret Service training, U.S. Marshal training and extensive experience cooperating with federal authorities through the local High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) task force.
"You testify with all that training you were never told about a reporting threshold for $10,000 cash?" Stassen asked.
"No sir," Benta said.
"And as chief of police you don’t know about the $10,000 threshold?" Stassen asked.
"No sir," Benta said.
Challenging the suggestion all the checks were below $10,000, Prosser attorney Robert Craig produced one check to Benta for exactly $10,000 and one for only $3,000.
Benta said the $3,000 check was probably for a short trip from St. Croix to St. Thomas.
"Other than that one check dated April, 13, 2007, was there any other check for more than $10,000?" Lee asked.
"I would have to look and see," Benta said.
"In fact you were surprised to see that one check?" Lee asked.
"I would say I was," Benta said.
Stassen and Lee probed Benta for any documentation of where more than $15,000 per month of ICC money went every year.
"Did you file expense reports with the company to explain how you actually used the cash?" Lee asked.
Benta said he would explain the charges to ICC's chief financial officer verbally.
Was there at any time any written explanation of what the cash was used for?" Lee asked shortly after.
"No sir." Benta said.
"Did you report the names of the individuals you hired back to the company?" Stassen asked shortly after.
"No sir," Benta said.
"Did you report those payments to the IRS or provide those individuals with a 1099 form?" Stassen asked.
"No sir," Benta said.
"Did you always use the entire amount?" Stassen asked.
"And more sometimes," Benta said.
"Did you ever go back and ask for reimbursement at any time?"
"No sir," Benta said.
"Did you ever not use the full amount and file papers to return the rest?" Stassen asked.
"Never," Benta said.
"Did you ever keep a log of your expenses?" Stassen asked.
"No sir," Benta said.
"Did you keep receipts?" Stassen asked.
"Some receipts were mailed to the company by some of the companies whose people I hired," Benta said. "But most of the people working side by side with me were paid in cash."
Benta was paid a base salary of $120,000 a year according to his testimony, apparently not in cash. Over the course of his employment he also received, he said, about $50,000 in bonuses as well as cash advances for his own expenses.
Former ICC board member and longtime ICC legal counsel John Raynor was to testify as well Thursday, but attorneys for ICC Chapter 11 trustee Stan Springel asserted attorney-client privilege as Raynor was ICC counsel until Springel came onboard, and the trustee is now in charge of ICC. As a result, Raynor will testify at a later date, with pre-approved questions.
The hearings this week were to determine whether any of three multimillion dollar homes and an array of expensive art and men's jewelry can be taken and sold or will remain in Prosser's possession. The hearings will continue in Fitzgerald's home court in Pittsburgh in September. (See: "Court Gives Prosser 3 Setbacks as V.I. Hearings Open.")

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Aug. 29, 2008 -- Acting St. Croix Police Chief Oakland Benta took the stand on St. Thomas Thursday in the ongoing bankruptcy case of Jeffrey Prosser, testifying to his knowledge about the many disputes in the case gleaned from his nine years as Prosser's head of security, including the matter of the $15,000 a month in cash he managed for Prosser. Prosser is in Chapter 7 bankruptcy, and Vitelco parent company ICC in Chapter 11. (See: "ICC, Prosser File for Bankruptcy") and "More Data Emerges on ICC Bankruptcy; But Questions Remain".)
Benta, hired as special assistant to Police Commissioner James McCall, has been acting St. Croix Police Chief for several months while Police Chief Thomas Hannah is on medical leave. Benta created and then served as head of Prosser's security department from 1998 to 2007, he told the court.
Of particular interest to attorneys for Prosser's creditors and those of the Chapter 11 and Chapter 7 trustees, overseeing respectively his former company ICC and his personal estate, were numerous ICC checks to Benta, identified in company ledgers as for "logistical support."
In a previous hearing, Eling Joseph, Prosser's executive secretary of 19 years, and Ingrid Christian, a forensic accountant working for Springel, both testified that Prosser had ICC spend tens of millions of dollars on sporting-event tickets, airline travel, hotel stays, jewelry, clothing, fine dining and cash payments for Prosser's wife, children, personal friends, personal servants and others, without any discernible legitimate business reason. Joseph also said Prosser pocketed over $100,000 in ICC funds by having ICC cut checks to an employee named Anthony Paul, who cashed them for Prosser. (See: "Prosser Admits Lying to Bankruptcy Court About Jewelry Costs.")
But Benta dealt in cash and in most cases without receipts or any paper trail.
Benta said ICC issued the checks to him, he would cash them, travel ahead of Prosser and pay security assistance hired at the location in cash. Following are some of the questions and answers in the courtroom Thursday, presided over by U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Judith Fitzgerald.
"All of your expenses for logistics were paid in cash?" asked William Stassen, an attorney for the federal Chapter 7 trustee in charge of Prosser's estate.
"All of them, with the exception of one or two," Benta said.
"Chief Benta, was there ever a time when you would be traveling and Mr. Prosser would ask you for any of the cash he gave you?" asked James Lee, another attorney for the Chapter 7 trustee.
"Never," Benta said.
Lee displayed a check entered into an ICC ledger from ICC to Benta for $5,000, dated Dec. 15, 2001.
"Do you see the register where it says: 'Purpose: Advance for CEO?'" Lee asked.
Benta said he did.
"Did you ever deliver the funds?" Lee asked.
"No sir," Benta said.
Lee then displayed an ICC fax listing the same check number and amount, with the first names Linnea and Delilah signed on the bottom.
"Who are Linnea and Delilah?" Lee asked.
"They are the ones who assigned the checks for the company," Benta said.
Lee then had Benta read the fax, which stated "These funds are for Mr. Jeffrey Prosser. He would like for Mr. Benta to bring it to the airport when he gets here on Saturday. Thank You."
"You still say you never gave cash to Mr. Prosser?" Lee asked.
"That is my testimony," Benta said.
At another point, Lee asked how often Benta received these checks for cash.
"Frequently," Benta replied.
"But at least twice a month and it went on for years and they were almost always $8,000?" Lee asked.
"That is correct," Benta said.
"Chief Benta, as a police officer, do you have any knowledge as to why $10,000 is a line of demarcation for cash transactions?" Lee asked.
"No sir." Benta replied.
Signs posted inside U.S. banks declare currency transactions over $10,000 must be reported to the IRS.
Stassen asked Benta about his police training. Benta said he has FBI training, U.S. Secret Service training, U.S. Marshal training and extensive experience cooperating with federal authorities through the local High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) task force.
"You testify with all that training you were never told about a reporting threshold for $10,000 cash?" Stassen asked.
"No sir," Benta said.
"And as chief of police you don’t know about the $10,000 threshold?" Stassen asked.
"No sir," Benta said.
Challenging the suggestion all the checks were below $10,000, Prosser attorney Robert Craig produced one check to Benta for exactly $10,000 and one for only $3,000.
Benta said the $3,000 check was probably for a short trip from St. Croix to St. Thomas.
"Other than that one check dated April, 13, 2007, was there any other check for more than $10,000?" Lee asked.
"I would have to look and see," Benta said.
"In fact you were surprised to see that one check?" Lee asked.
"I would say I was," Benta said.
Stassen and Lee probed Benta for any documentation of where more than $15,000 per month of ICC money went every year.
"Did you file expense reports with the company to explain how you actually used the cash?" Lee asked.
Benta said he would explain the charges to ICC's chief financial officer verbally.
Was there at any time any written explanation of what the cash was used for?" Lee asked shortly after.
"No sir." Benta said.
"Did you report the names of the individuals you hired back to the company?" Stassen asked shortly after.
"No sir," Benta said.
"Did you report those payments to the IRS or provide those individuals with a 1099 form?" Stassen asked.
"No sir," Benta said.
"Did you always use the entire amount?" Stassen asked.
"And more sometimes," Benta said.
"Did you ever go back and ask for reimbursement at any time?"
"No sir," Benta said.
"Did you ever not use the full amount and file papers to return the rest?" Stassen asked.
"Never," Benta said.
"Did you ever keep a log of your expenses?" Stassen asked.
"No sir," Benta said.
"Did you keep receipts?" Stassen asked.
"Some receipts were mailed to the company by some of the companies whose people I hired," Benta said. "But most of the people working side by side with me were paid in cash."
Benta was paid a base salary of $120,000 a year according to his testimony, apparently not in cash. Over the course of his employment he also received, he said, about $50,000 in bonuses as well as cash advances for his own expenses.
Former ICC board member and longtime ICC legal counsel John Raynor was to testify as well Thursday, but attorneys for ICC Chapter 11 trustee Stan Springel asserted attorney-client privilege as Raynor was ICC counsel until Springel came onboard, and the trustee is now in charge of ICC. As a result, Raynor will testify at a later date, with pre-approved questions.
The hearings this week were to determine whether any of three multimillion dollar homes and an array of expensive art and men's jewelry can be taken and sold or will remain in Prosser's possession. The hearings will continue in Fitzgerald's home court in Pittsburgh in September. (See: "Court Gives Prosser 3 Setbacks as V.I. Hearings Open.")

Back Talk


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.