Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory (D-STT) will donate $1,000 in campaign contributions from a company owned by billionaire and accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, making her the third U.S. Virgin Islands politician to acknowledge and relinquish Epstein-tied campaign money.
“I in no way support the conduct of Mr. Epstein and the recent allegations against him. And further, I will not knowingly affiliate with anyone who behaves in such an abhorrent manner,” Frett-Gregory stated in a press release in response to campaign finance inquiries.
According to Frett-Gregory, while her campaign did not receive contributions bearing Epstein’s name, it did receive $1,000 from Southern Trust Company, Inc., a V.I. Economic Development Commission beneficiary receiving tax breaks under the V.I. Economic Development Authority.
“EDC companies go through a very rigorous vetting and investigative process before they are awarded benefits. So, I felt comfortable accepting a contribution from an EDC company because I knew that they had been thoroughly screened. I also knew that they are legally required to donate to the community,” Frett-Gregory said.
Beyond this contribution, “the senator is in no way affiliated with Mr. Epstein,” according to the press release.
The V.I. Economic Development Authority lists Southern Trust as a company engaged in providing extensive DNA database and data-mining services. Headquartered at 6100 Red Hook Quarter, Suite B-3 on St. Thomas, the company lists former first lady Cecile deJongh, wife of former Gov. John deJongh, as office manager. As an EDC company, Southern Trust enjoys corporate and income tax cuts – as much as 90 percent – and a full exemption on gross receipts, business property and excise taxes.
“It’s not unusual for companies to donate to political campaigns here in the territory and in the future, campaign donations will be reviewed with even further scrutiny,” Frett-Gregory said.
Instead of returning the $1,000 to Southern Trust, Frett-Gregory said she will donate it “to the people who needed it most – youth within our community.” Frett-Gregory’s office did not elaborate when the money would be disbursed, nor did it specify if the funds would go directly to individual youth or through local non-profits.
On Saturday, Sen. Alicia Barnes (D-STX) announced she also will return $1,000 in campaign contributions to Southern Trust. Barnes said in a Thursday email that she had not received Epstein money “to the best of [her] knowledge. On Saturday, the St. Croix senator sent out a correction, saying a detailed review of her 2018 campaign donations revealed the $1,000 from Southern Trust.
“When the donation was received last year, it did not raise concerns. However, in light of the allegations made and the previous disposition of Mr. Epstein’s legal issues, my campaign will return the $1,000 to Southern Trust Company, Inc., via certified mail on Monday,” Barnes wrote.
Barnes stated that she only learned of Southern Trust’s ties to Epstein after recent media reports.
“It is important that as elected officials once it is clear that donations may have been received from individuals that we would not have around our children and family, or whose positions are unequivocally unaligned with our own, that donations/contributions be immediately returned,” Barnes wrote.
On July 9, Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett also announced she will make charitable donations in the amount Epstein donated to her election campaigns in 2016 and 2018.
“In light of new information and allegations that have been made against Jeffrey Epstein I have decided to make contributions to Virgin Islands organizations that work with women and children in the amount of his previous contributions,” Plaskett said in a statement.
Lawmakers who have denied receiving any campaign donations from Epstein were Sens. Novelle Francis (D-STX), Allison Degazon (D-STX), Oakland Benta (D-STX), Steven Payne (At-Large), Janelle Sarauw (I-STT), Javan James (D-STX), Myron Jackson (D-STT), Stedmann Hodge (D-STT), Athneil “Bobby” Thomas (D-STT) and Marvin Blyden (D-STT).
Senators who have not yet responded to inquiries sent to their Senate emails were Sens. Dwayne Degraff (D-STT), Kenneth Gittens (D-STX) and Kurt Vialet (D-STX).
Government House’s Director of Communication Richard Motta, Jr. also stated that Gov. Albert Bryan did not receive any campaign contributions from Epstein.
Apart from Barnes and Gregory, no other lawmaker who initially responded has sent follow-up correspondence regarding discovery of an Epstein-tied donation that does not explicitly bear Epstein’s name.