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Survey Office Accused of Crossing Ethical Lines

Professional and personal disputes between USVI land surveyors have boiled over into accusations of wrongdoing. (Source photo by Mat Probasco)

A St. John surveyor claims the government office in charge of boundary marking has crossed the line, engaging in petty politics, personal profit, inaccurate work, and misrepresentation. He also fears it’s being covered up.

Larry Best of Best Winters Land Surveyors, Inc., filed a grievance with the Licensing and Consumer Affairs Department more than a year ago alleging Wayne Callwood, the government’s public surveyor, regularly used another surveyor’s stamp when performing private work, possibly to avoid the appearance of conflict with his public duties.

Best, who acknowledged two decades of disputes with the public surveyor, said Callwood runs the Cadastral Division like his private kingdom, approving surveys of friends and delaying the work of his rivals.

“He’s been abusing his authority there to promote his own business and suppress mine for 20 years,” he said. “It’s taken him up to three years to record surveys of mine.”

Best also claimed Callwood’s surveys could be haphazard, sometimes being off by close to 29 feet.

“Last May 3, I filed a formal complaint with the V.I. Board of Architects, Engineers and Land Surveyors against Mr. Callwood for the atrocious nature of his surveying work, setting bound posts dozens of feet off, refusing to discuss his work with other surveyors and repeatedly using the stamp of another engineer,” Best said. “Mr. Callwood is the V.I. Public Surveyor. He decides what surveys can be recorded. He decides what deeds can be recorded. He operates his own land surveying business.”

Callwood has strenuously denied the accusations, saying Best’s claims are personal grievances, not professional. Callwood acknowledged he performed private surveying on the side but said he broke no rules.

“No. I wouldn’t do something like that. I take my job serious,” he said. “This doesn’t have nothing to do with the government. My stuff is private. This is a private situation. Anybody can work with anybody.”

Just as an off duty police officer might be a security guard, or a doctor might ask for assistance from another, surveyors help out when needed, Callwood said.

“If a taxi can’t drop you off, he give it to somebody else to do. That’s not illegal,” he said. “And the same, surveyors work with other surveyors in their office and they use the other surveyor’s documents and thing to do the work.”

Callwood scoffed at the accusation of inaccuracy in his surveys, saying a lack of digital mapping in the Virgin Islands made all surveys approximations open to second guessing. It was a matter of inches or a few feet, not 29 feet, he said.

Back-and-forth correspondence since at least April 2023 has Best accusing Callwood of using another surveyor’s stamp without proper supervision and has Callwood saying Best was trying to get his license revoked and “not interested in resolving any issues.”

In a January letter to H. Nathalie Hodge, the then DLCA commissioner nominee, Callwood said he and Best attended a meeting with several members of the Lt. Governor’s Office in December 2023. Callwood said he thought emailing lost or missing documents Best requested would wrap things up.

Not so. Best wanted a full investigation.

The DLCA’s V.I. Board of Architects, Engineers and Land Surveyors, part of the Licensing and Consumer Affairs Department, declined to comment on the complaint or give a timeline for their response. Complaints of this nature are not made available to the public, said the department’s attorney, Geraldine P. Vaval, in an email.

“Any actions by the department must be conducted as discretely as possible to protect the identities of any party and maintain the integrity of any investigation until the matter is settled, withdrawn, or dismissed. That someone else has chosen to talk to you does not alter our responsibility to defer public comment at this time,” Vaval said.

The secrecy did not sit well with Best, who wondered if the incident had been reported to the Attorney General’s office — or if it was being swept under the rug because of Callwood’s political connections.

“I don’t believe there ever will be an investigation but I’m no expert on this,” Best said. “I submitted complaints to the Board May 3, 2023. The board members weren’t told of the complaints until January.”

Callwood was the commissioner of the Public Works Department from 2001 to 2005 when he abruptly quit in the wake of the Global Resources Management corruption scandal that took down the former St. Croix administrator, the Legislature’s former post auditor, and briefly ensnared Sen. Alicia “Chucky” Hansen.

Callwood was not charged with wrongdoing in the case that had Hansen allegedly steering a lucrative contract to an unqualified group her husband worked for in exchange for a campaign contribution and other benefits. Hansen, who claimed the process was racist, and her husband were not found guilty — although she’d later be found guilty of tax-related charges. Three other men were sentenced to prison.

In May 2006, Callwood testified he felt intense pressure to approve the suspicious contract, saying his job had been threatened.

Years earlier, it was an allegedly dodgy water barge contract that put Callwood at odds with legislators.

Licensing’s website lists two complaints against Callwood. The first, from October 2022, alleges he took a $3,000 deposit for a four-week surveying job but, 14 weeks later, hadn’t returned a signed copy of the agreement. A second complaint, this one from Best, alleged Callwood was negligently slow in responding to a client and that the August 2022 drawings he made “were substantially incomplete.”

“I think that Mr. Callwood should not be allowed to practice surveying in the VI,” Best’s complaint reads.

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