AG: High Profile Cases Intact After White-Collar Division Dismantled

File photo of Attorney General Denise George-Counts testifying during a July 11 Senate committee meeting (Photo by Barry Leerdam, Legislature of the Virgin Islands)
File photo of Attorney General Denise George-Counts testifying during a July 11 Senate committee meeting (Photo by Barry Leerdam, Legislature of the Virgin Islands)

Two high profile cases that have been awaiting trial for several years are still on track for court. According to Attorney General Denise George, the most prominent case is scheduled to begin in October.

George spoke about the status of the two cases of alleged financial wrongdoing at the end of a July 25 press conference on St. Thomas. Gov. Albert Bryan called the press conference to introduce his nominee for police commissioner and to announce a new campaign against white-collar crime.

The first step to restoring trust in public institutions was the revitalization of the Justice Department’s white collar crime division, Bryan said. His comments came as a major re-trial for three accused former officials of the Schneider Regional Medical Center makes its way onto the docket of Presiding Superior Court Judge Michael Dunston.

Also pending – but without an anticipated trial date – is the case of accused realtor Rosemary Sauter-Frett. Both cases have been subject to prosecution for a decade or more.

Former medical center chief executive officer Rodney Miller, along with former chief operations officer Amos Carty and former chief financial officer Peter Najawicz, are accused of collecting more than $3.8 million in salary and perks between 2003 and 2008; much of it without authorization of the hospital board.

The three were put on trial in 2011. After six weeks of testimony and a lengthy jury deliberation, Dunston declared a mistrial in the case. The then-Attorney General Vincent Frazer immediately said there would be a retrial. Since then, different aspects of the case have been subject to review by the Virgin Islands Supreme Court; in 2009, 2013 and 2016.

Disruptions in the court system caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017 produced further delays. In early 2018, Dunston discussed the prospects of staging another lengthy trial in the hospital case before the end of the year.

Sauter-Frett is accused of absconding with $3 million in customer deposits on real estate purchases from clients and fleeing to California in 2010. She was arrested by the FBI and returned to the territory in 2014.

After the press conference, George explained the anti-corruption division had been dismantled under the administration of former-Gov. Kenneth Mapp. At the time, the current attorney general was an assistant attorney general, tasked with leading the prosecution of white collar crime cases. The change became apparent, George said, when the investigators assigned to the division were moved out.

“In 2016 there were efforts with the new administration, that they shut down that division and moved me out and moved the investigators. I was aware the hospital case was still pending,” she said.

Upon returning to Justice as the attorney general nominee this year, George said she found that some of the cases once managed by the white collar crime division could still be located. Notably, the boxes of evidence amassed in the hospital case.

“It was supposed to go to retrial in 2014 but it was rescheduled the day of jury selection. The files were packed up and they remained intact,” she said.

Materials prepared for court in the Sauter-Frett case are also still in the hands of Justice officials, George said. But the attorney general said at the time of last week’s press conference she did not know about a trial date in that case.

To properly address current and future cases, George said Justice will have to recruit specially trained lawyers and investigators who will work in a revitalized unit.

“In the Virgin Islands Code, the Virgin Islands Department of Justice is mandated to establish a division within the department for the effective and aggressive prosecution of white collar and public corruption crimes in the Virgin Islands. That is a statutory mandate. And we have – the Department of Justice – from time to time, lived up to that. But as it is now, at some point in time within the past few years, the white collar-public corruption division has been dismantled,” the attorney general said.