Officials at the Justice Department declined to comment Monday on what the future may hold for three individuals once affiliated with the Motor Vehicles Bureau, now that the V.I. Supreme Court has rejected their bid to have conspiracy and embezzlement charges facing them dismissed.
A three-judge panel recently upheld an opinion issued by a lower court judge who granted a motion brought by prosecutors to dismiss the case against the defendants.
Defendants Jerris Browne and Syed Gilani also wanted the case containing multiple criminal charges brought against them dropped. The two former Motor Vehicles officials, along with a third defendant – Gregory Christian – were accused of conspiracy to embezzle funds earmarked to implement the federal Real ID Act in the Virgin Islands.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Rhys Hodge and Associate Justice Ive Arlington Swan and Designated Justice Jomo Meade ruled on the defendant’s appeal in late May. As he wrote the opinion upholding Superior Court Judge Robert Molloy, Swan pointed out that Browne and Gilani were subject to criminal charges and could not challenge a move by the V.I. Justice Department to drop the charges without prejudice.
When a court declares a case dismissed without prejudice, it means that charges can be brought again to the court. When Browne – the former Motor Vehicles Bureau director – and Gilani, owner of BIZVI, appealed Molloy’s Feb. 14, 2020, ruling in favor of Justice, they asked that the charges of conspiracy, embezzlement, fraud, obtaining money under false pretense, racketeering, falsification of public accounts and conversion of government property be dismissed without allowing the case to be reinstated.
The defendants claimed they were denied their constitutional rights to a speedy trial and to due process when Justice officials failed to put the case against them together in a timely manner. They also claimed that portions of the evidence prosecutors planned to present in court were not shared with lawyers for the defense. Along the timeline from the defendant’s arrest on June 19, 2017, to Molloy’s February 2020 ruling were disruptions of the court’s administration by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017.
But by Feb. 10, 2020, when Justice officials filed their motion to dismiss, they admitted an “inability to satisfy its burden of proof at trial.” Swan, in his Supreme Court opinion, said the motion to dismiss without prejudice was an effort to preserve the right to bring the case anew at a later date.
When the defense moved to challenge Molloy’s ruling, the court rejected it. In doing so, the court said it appeared that Browne and Gilani wished to challenge the Rules of Criminal Procedure and did not have the standing to do so, since they were criminal defendants. Under Rule 48 (a) the government can dismiss a case without prejudice. Defendants are only allowed to challenge the rule once the case goes to trial and the motion must be brought while the trial is in progress.
The high court agreed in the opinion filed May 17. Swan wrote that once the government files a motion to dismiss under Rule 48 (a), there is no provision to entertain a challenge based on a claim that the government acted in bad faith.
“Once filed, the People’s Rule 48(a) motion constituted a new circumstance that made the People’s response to the defendant’s motion to dismiss moot, and the government’s ability to refile charges cannot, without more, justify a Rule 48(b) dismissal or a dismissal without prejudice,” Swan said in writing the high court opinion.
An attempt was made to reach Attorney General Denise George, to ask what future actions Justice might consider in the Real ID conspiracy case. Justice spokesperson Sandra Goomansingh said on Monday that George had “ no comment in the case against Jerris Browne, Syed Gilani and Gregory Christian.”
Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to clarify that the case against the defendants was dismissed without prejudice.