With a pandemic and economic crisis hitting the islands, a resident might be tempted to write a bad check or use someone else’s identity to make a credit card purchase. It is not a good time to make such a decision, according to the V.I. Police Department.
Deputy Commissioner of Police Operations Dr. Celvin Walwyn told the Source Friday that the Economic Crime Unit is well staffed and economic crimes, at the direction of the V.I. Senate, are getting more focus.
Walwyn said the most common economic crimes are obtaining money by false pretense, passing forged bills, forgery, identity theft, fraudulent use of a credit card, embezzlement, drawing and delivering worthless checks and extortion.
The St. Croix District now has two officers devoted full-time to economic crimes and the St. Thomas District has three. The St. Thomas officers, according to Walwyn, are more focused on cyber and major economic crimes while the St. Croix officers are investigating crimes by individuals.
Most of the crime investigations are the result of citizens’ complaints, said Walwyn, and most of the time the investigations lead to confessions.
The nature of the territory, however, sometimes complicates the matter. “We are living on small islands with many community ties, where most people are related to each other,” Walwyn said. “It makes it difficult to prosecute individuals in many cases because of the familial relationships.”
However, using a family member’s card or check book without their permission does not guarantee immunity. Even if the family member chooses not to prosecute a bank or financial institution might be found to be the victim and it can prosecute.
Walwyn said the department has become aggressive in its prosecution. He said the department was unable to stop a bad check writer when she was getting on airplane to Florida. She was arrested in Florida and sat in jail for two weeks while her extradition back to the territory was processed.
Since the Insular Investigation Unit was renamed and refocused as the Economic Crime Unit in July 2015, the unit has successfully prosecuted more than 50 cases each year.
The unit is funded out of VIPD’s general budget and led by Sgt. Antonette Sargent. The Senate at the end of last year passed the Financial Exploitation of the Elderly bill, raising the penalties of those found guilty of exploiting the elderly, demanding restitution and attaching to offender’s civil liability.
According to a press release from the V.I. Police Department earlier this month, the Economic Crime Unit, after the passage of that bill, was given a mandate to bring all pending cases to the Commissioner’s Office for review. As a result of the review, a total of 21 cases of economic crimes against the elderly were processed and executed in the territory.
“The VIPD Economic Crime Unit investigates all allegations of economic crimes, but cases involving Financial Exploitation of the Elderly are given priority,” the department’s statement continued.
Police Commissioner Trevor Velinor said the department is determined to prosecute these cases, no matter the status of the offender.
“Regardless of who you are or where you work, if our investigation determines that you have committed this violation of trust, you will be arrested,” Velinor said.
The department also had another expanded role during the coronavirus trouble and the governor’s orders for residents to shelter in place. Walwyn told the Source, “Our effort is not to go out and arrest; it is to educate.”
Officers have gone into businesses such as gas stations outside of which groups traditionally gather and drink a beer and have warned the business owner they would be fined if the gatherings are not dispersed.
One of the biggest dispersal efforts by the police department happened on the Saturday after the governor proclaimed the sheltering in place restrictions. The park at Altoona Lagoon is a traditional gathering spot for Crucians on Saturdays with barbecues and picnics. The police department showed up with several police cruisers and turned on their sirens and began circling the park. No one was arrested but the sirens were not turned off until all the groups had dispersed. Beaches are expected to be reopened Monday, April 20, but the restriction on group gatherings remains in effect.
The department encourages victims of economic crimes to report incidents to the police by calling 911 or the Economic Crime Unit at 340-778-2211.