A public corruption case involving a former Virgin Islands lawmaker came to an end Thursday when Wayne James was sentenced to two and a half years in prison.
James, 56, a St. Croix born lawyer, author and historian served one term in the 28th Legislature.
James was arrested in Italy in 2016 and extradited to the V.I. after being tracked down by the FBI through social media posts. He was indicted after prosecutors said he appropriated thousands of dollars to conduct research in the Danish National Archives on the 1878 Fireburn labor revolt.
Then, federal prosecutors said, he diverted most of the funds for his personal use, including to fund a failed re-election campaign.
District Court Judge Curtis Gomez sentenced James to three 30-month prison terms to run concurrently. He also ordered the defendant to serve three years of supervised release and to pay $77,963.51 in restitution. Although the judge declared James did not have the means to pay a fine, he directed he begin paying restitution immediately, in monthly installments of 10 percent each.
Prosecutors asked the court for 36 months and the defense asked for half of that, and although James was a first time offender, Gomez said James’ prison time ran towards the higher end of the guidelines.
There was also an admonishment.
“Once you are elected as a representative of the Virgin Islands Legislature, there are certain things the public expects. Once you divert funds to enrich yourself it is certainly something the public does not expect,” the judge said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Vaughn argued for more time. She said James came up with a sophisticated system involving thousands of emails which included the words Fireburn, invoice, archives and documents. Investigators produced 38,000 emails.
Vaughn said they were intended to obscure the nature of the scheme. Funds obtained through the Legislature were funneled through three banks and MoneyGram stores. And, she added, James kept committing fraud even after he was warned to stop by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
“That is corruption. It is a far-reaching problem that has a long-lasting effect. He must be held accountable,” Vaughn said.
But the judge rejected a bid by the prosecution to raise the dollar amount of James’ legal liability.
The court was asked to add an $11,185 travel voucher the defendant submitted for a trip to Brazil. Investigators later found out the money was used by James to return to St. Croix, then on to Italy.
Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation used social media posts to track James down in Nonantola, Italy in 2016. During an initial appearance in court on St. Thomas, the defendant said he was there writing a book called Manly Manners: Lifestyle and Modern Etiquette For the Young Man in the 21st Century. The first of what was promoted as a three volume set was published in November 2016.
But Gomez said the submission of the Brazil vouchers were not timely enough to be included. He also turned down a second enhancement request. Vaughn said a series of emails sent by James to a witness was meant to obstruct justice.
But Gomez did not agree. The subject of the emails was a long-standing friend, he said, and the messages appeared to be friendly and conversational.
Since Aug. 16 when he was found guilty, James has been held in federal detention. At sentencing on Thursday, the court did not mention if any of that time behind bars would count as time already served. Gomez returned the defendant to the custody of U.S. marshals with a final remark.
“It is certainly a sad day for the Legislature to see and hear what happened to your tenure,” the judge said.