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Sunday, July 14, 2024
HomeNewsLocal newsTurnbull Library Trial to Pick Up Monday after A Week of Testimony

Turnbull Library Trial to Pick Up Monday after A Week of Testimony

The case against the three men accused of conspiring to use federal resources and construction material meant for the construction of the Charles Wesley Turnbull Library on St. Thomas will resume Monday after a week of testimony from federal agents, ex-spouses and on Friday, former Gov. John deJongh Jr.

Named as defendants in the trial are former Public Finance Authority executive director Julito Francis Jr., Jaredian Design principal John Woods and Balbo Construction owner Gerard Castor Sr., who are facing federal charges ranging from conspiracy to perjury. Francis, who has been accused of taking bribes in exchange for awarding contracts for the project – and allegedly allowing Castor do to work on his private home using “blue bit rock” bought for the library – is also charged with bribery, extortion under color of official right, honest services wire fraud and perjury.

Alleged co-conspirator Woods, who prosecutors said helped Castor get the library contract in exchange for providing $10,000 worth of construction work – using the same brick – at his private home, is also charged with bribery and extortion under color of official right. Prosecutors last week said documents to be presented during the trial will show that Woods attempted to “cover up” his alleged involvement in the scheme by making it appear that he intended to do work for Castor – including designing a building for Balbo – in exchange for the improvements to his home.

Castor, meanwhile, is accused of providing bribes in the case in return for the library and other government contracts, and is also charged with bribery and wire fraud.

Federal attorney Justin Weitz and his team have presented a variety of documents, including emails, transcripts, letters between the three men. The project, Weitz said, gave the group a chance to “make themselves richer.” Later in the week, testimony from federal agent Jackson Purkey was used to support the prosecution’s arguments that Francis, Woods and Castor only began communicating about payment after other federal investigations – involving, among others, former Sen. Alvin Williams Jr. – started building.

Purkey’s testimony on Thursday also revealed that at least $1.2 million in federal funds were used for the project, while the share from the Public Finance Authority – the government agency that was thought to have financed most of the project – appeared to be much less. The group’s alleged misuse of the federal funds is what brought the case to U.S. District Court.

Significant testimony against Francis also came Friday when his ex-wife, Dr. Debra Wright-Francis, took the stand and said that she did not know the details behind more than $400,000 worth of construction that Balbo completed to the home that she shared with her husband. According to reports in other media outlets, Wright-Francis testified that she had not signed a contract, put down a deposit, or secured additional financing for the work, which she said included the building of a pool, balcony, extra storage and a new downstairs.

Wright-Francis added that the couple had originally told the company not to start the work because of the estimated cost, but that once the work started, bills from Balbo did not start to come in 2011, after she and her husband had separated.

She testified that it wasn’t until divorce proceedings had started that Francis’ outstanding loans and other financial information, came to light. According to other media reports, Wright-Francis testified that she began paying Balbo for the work after the company – which later filed suit against the couple in 2014 – began billing them.

For the defense, Castor’s attorney Darren John-Baptiste, said during opening arguments earlier in the week that his client was a good builder, but did not have a head for business, and that billing later for work was not unusual. John-Baptiste spoke about favors that his client had done for other individuals, including charities, and that the prosecutions’ focus on his company starting two projects – the library and the work on Francis’ house – at the same time was not out of the ordinary.

Later testimony by agent Purkey on Thursday showed pages of records kept by Castor about his open accounts, including a ledger that showed what Francis owed since 2008, what library funds were spent, where materials were purchased and what was put toward Francis’ house.

Francis’ attorney, meanwhile, argued this week that his client was just the go-between on the project, and was told by the PFA board – headed by former Gov. John deJongh Jr. – to “get it done.”

In opening arguments at the beginning of last week, defense attorney Robert King Sr. said that Francis was not involved in the selection of the contract, and that Balbo Construction was instead picked by a committee made up of members from Public Works, the PFA, and Planning and Natural Resources. Later in the week, one document presented by the prosecution showed Francis’ name as “absent” from the selection committee meeting at which Balbo was selected, but right after, another document was put up on the screen with his name on the meeting list.

Purkey said on the stand that the documents used in the case have been collected since 2013 and were focused specifically on the work being done on Francis’ and Woods’ properties.

Representing Woods, attorney Treston Moore said early in the week that his client, in any selection process, does not have the ability to make contract decisions, but can make recommendations based on the designs he has put together. Prosecutors said later in the week that one of those recommendations was for specific material, blue bit rock, to be used on the library, and Purkey testified to documents Thursday that indicate Woods allegedly moved the excess to his house after members of the project’s selection committee said they were “going to be thrown away."

Woods then allegedly moved the stones to his house and had Castor make the improvements, and since the job was only supposed to take one month – at a cost of $15,000 – Woods and Castor made alternate arrangements for payment once the timeline increased to four months, Purkey said.

DeJongh was the last to take the witness stand Friday, before the trial broke for the weekend. The former governor testified that Woods and Francis did not tell him, or the Public Finance Authority board, they were using Castor for work at their own houses at the same time the library was being built.

The trial resumes at 9 a.m. Monday. 

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