WASHINGTON – On Feb. 27, 2008, a federal jury in St. Thomas found the former Commissioner of the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) guilty of demanding and accepting bribes and obstructing justice and the former Department of Property and Procurement (DP&P) guilty of demanding and accepting bribes in a $1.4 million bribery and kickback scheme, Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher of the Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Anthony J. Jenkins of the District of the Virgin Islands announced today. Former DPNR Commissioner Dean C. Plaskett, 43, faces a maximum sentence of 50 years in prison, and a $750,000 fine. Former DP&P Commissioner Marc A. Biggs, 42, faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Both defendants also face restitution and criminal forfeiture in excess of $1 million. Sentencing for Plaskett and Biggs has been scheduled for July 2, 2008.
In a 12-count indictment returned on Nov. 8, 2007, a grand jury charged Plaskett and Biggs with demanding and accepting a series of bribes and kickbacks in exchange for awarding approximately $1.4 million in government contracts and then authorizing more than $1 million in progress payments, despite little or no work having been performed. Both defendants were charged with conspiracy to violate the federal program bribery statute and commit honest services mail fraud as well as multiple counts of federal program bribery. The indictment further charged Plaskett and Biggs, with multiple counts of obstructing justice, stemming from their attempts to thwart the joint federal and local investigation into the underlying bribery and kickback scheme.
Following a two-week trial, the jury found both Plaskett and Biggs guilty of demanding and accepting a bribe and kickback associated with a $650,000 contract awarded to a shell company created by others involved in the elaborate scheme. The jury also found Plaskett guilty of two counts of obstruction of justice, stemming from Plaskett’s efforts to conceal the bribery and kickback scheme from federal and local investigators. Specifically, Plaskett attempted to have documents created and backdated to falsely document work never done by the shell company. The jury acquitted Leroy L. Marchena of all charges against him.
To date, four individuals, including three other U.S. Virgin Islands government officials, have pleaded guilty to felony charges as a result of this investigation. Former DPNR Director of the Division of Environmental Protection Hollis L. Griffin, former Virgin Islands Fire Service employee Earl E. Brewley, and Atlanta, Ga., businessman Esmond J. Modeste have pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate the federal program bribery statute, honest services mail fraud, and structuring currency transactions in furtherance of the underlying bribery and kickback scheme. The three defendants have been sentenced to prison – Griffin (four years), Modeste (30 months), and Brewley (21 months) – and ordered to pay restitution in the approximate amount of $1.1 million. Additionally, former DPNR Director of Permits Blyden pleaded guilty to conspiring to obstruct the joint federal and local investigation into the bribery and kickback scheme. He faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine, $125,000 in restitution, and $20,000 in criminal forfeiture.
In early 2000, with Blyden’s assistance, Griffin, Brewley, Modeste, and others formed a sham business by the name of Elite Technical Services (Elite), and then used the entity, as well as other companies, to seek and be awarded at least seven government contracts valued at approximately $1.4 million. The contracts were authorized and awarded by Plaskett, Biggs, Griffin, and Blyden. Although little or no work was performed, progress payments totaling more than $1 million were authorized by Plaskett, Biggs, Griffin, and Blyden, and paid to Elite and the other complicit companies. Once the contract proceeds were negotiated, Modeste, Brewley, and others kept a portion of the illicit proceeds for themselves and paid cash bribes and kickbacks totaling between $300,000 and $350,000 to government officials including Plaskett, Biggs, Griffin, and Blyden.
This case was prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Armando O. Bonilla, Michael Ferrara, and Peter M. Koski of the U.S. Department of Justice, Criminal Division, Public Integrity Section, headed by Chief William M. Welch II, in coordination with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of the Virgin Islands. Department of Justice Trial Attorney John P. Pearson participated in the investigation of this matter. The matter continues to be investigated by a task force comprised of the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of the Inspector General. The Virgin Islands Office of the Inspector General also assisted in this investigation.