Trying to delay turning over the last of his St. Croix wine for auction to pay creditors, bankrupt former Innovative Communications owner Jeffrey Prosser appears to have enlisted a low ranking V.I. Police Department official to create the impression the V.I. Police Department was investigating a crime, when it was not.
Prosser, formerly the owner of Vitelco and the two Innovative cable TV companies, has been in bankruptcy since 2006. His former companies, several homes, and millions of dollars worth of personal possessions have already been seized and sold at auction over the course of the bitter, extremely protracted, and contentious bankruptcy.
Of the few assets remaining, the Prosser’s wine cellar at their Estate Shoys residence, has been especially contentious, with the court appointed Chapter 7 trustee overseeing Prosser’s personal estate claiming Prosser purposefully allowed over $300,000 in wine to spoil, and Prosser countering with claims of a conspiracy whereby the trustee does not want to sell the wine, but to ruin it and blame the Prossers.
U.S. Bankruptcy Court has already determined the wine should be sold. When the trustee had experts inventory the wine on July 29, they found the wine likely to be spoiled and valueless because it had been removed from refrigerated storage.
Former St. Croix Police Chief Oakland Benta met the trustee and appeared to act as the Prossers’ agent that day, but the Prossers dispute that Benta was actually acting as their agent. The trustee asked for sanctions against the Prossers, and to have independent experts evaluate, and if possible, sell the wine at whatever price it could fetch.
During a Nov. 3 U.S. Bankruptcy Court hearing in Tampa, Fla. to consider a request to retain wine experts, Prosser’s attorney said he had just been handed a letter about a criminal investigation and presented it to the court. The letter, signed by " Cuthbert Cyril, Police Officer, USVI," on stationery from the V.I. Police Commissioner’s Office, declares "the criminal investigation of the July 29 incident is still ongoing," that the wine room "must remain locked and secured at all times," and asking for the Prossers’ "assistance in obtaining the address," or contact information for Chapter 7 Trustee James Carroll, to serve him with a subpoena in "this criminal investigation."
Curiously, V.I. Police Officer Cyril’s letter was dated Nov. 3 – the same day as the hearing at which it was presented in open court. It was addressed to “Misses/Mr. Dawn Prosser 5-10, Estate Shoys, Christiansted, St Croix, U.S.V.I., an address where the Prossers do not currently live, begging the question of how it got into the hands of the Prossers’ attorneys the same day it was purportedly mailed to an address where the Prossers did not live.
Three weeks later, on Nov. 23, the trustee’s attorney received a subpoena to appear for questioning before Cyril, signed by Cyril and Assistant Attorney General Charlotte Poole-Davis. However, at a Dec. 8 hearing, representatives of the V.I. Attorney General’s Office testified the office had no knowledge of any pending criminal investigation and withdrew the subpoena.
According to court filings, when the trustee’s attorneys called Cyril, he answered the phone with the words "police training:" Cyril works in the training division. Benta, who was St. Croix’s police chief from mid-2008 through early this year, now directs the training division. Judge Judith Fitzgerald asked whether the VIPD training bureau normally conducts criminal investigations, and Assistant Attorney General Carol Thomas Jacobs said the training bureau did not usually do so.
Acting Police Commissioner Henry White confirmed Tuesday the VIPD is not conducting any criminal investigation similar to the one Cyril wrote about. "The VIPD has no investigation regarding any property owned or possessed by the Prossers,” White said. Asked if Cyril was acting alone or under orders, White declined to offer specifics, saying "I am aware of the matter, and it will be addressed and brought to a logical conclusion."
Prosser has a long-standing relationship with Benta. Before taking up the post of St. Croix’s police chief in 2008, Benta created and then served as head of Prosser’s security department from 1998 to 2007. As Prosser’s security chief, Benta regularly received checks made out to him for cash, averaging about $15,000 per month over the course of several years. Nearly all the checks were just under the $10,000 legal reporting threshold.
Several witnesses testified Benta was given the checks, then turned the cash over to Prosser, and in one instance, the check itself contained a note directing Benta to bring the cash to Prosser personally.
Benta testified he never gave any of the cash to Prosser, but instead spent all of it on extra security when he traveled. Benta testified under oath he paid security details in several states and countries entirely in cash and received no receipts.
Stan Springel, the Chapter 11 trustee for Prosser’s corporate holdings, has sued Benta for $521,000 for all those undocumented expenses in an attempt to recover cash for the estate, arguing there is no evidence they served any legitimate business purpose.
That lawsuit remains pending, along with nearly 80 other suits seeking to recover several million dollars from individuals and companies the Prossers improperly paid with company money.