The contractors working at Meada’s Plaza to restore the building after a 2005 arson fire have received threats the building will be set afire again once renovations are complete, according to a letter from the building’s owner, St. Johnian Myrah Keating, to Senator at Large Carmen Wesselhoft.
Wesselhoft revealed the threat at a Monday morning, March 5, hearing of the V.I. Senate’s Committee on Public Safety, Homeland Security and Justice, in the presence of V.I. Police Department Commissioner James McCall.
“Someone is coming down there and saying, ‘I don’t know why you are fixing this; when it’s completed we’re going to burn it down again,’” said Wesselhoft.
The Senator at Large would not share a copy of the letter with St. John Tradewinds, citing other confidential information in the correspondence.
Fire September 2005
“I just wanted to put it on the record to let people know what’s going on,” said Wesselhoft.
Meada’s Plaza property manager Larry Landis confirmed the threats.
“Myrah called me and told me that the contractor said somebody came by and said something to his workers,” said Landis. “They said, ‘we don’t know why you’re rebuilding, we’re just going to burn it down again.’”
The building was set ablaze on September 1, 2005, following a public meeting in Cruz Bay’s Frank Powell Sr. Park where hundreds of island residents looked to local and federal law enforcement officials for answers regarding the alleged rape of an African American woman who reported she had been kidnapped and attacked by masked white men on the island’s East End.
The woman had been evicted as a tenant of the commercial complex and had been involved in a long-running conflict with neighboring business owner Bob Sells, which lead to Sells’ conviction for aggravated assault and battery in 2006 for “bumping into” the woman. Sells served four months in jail.
Sells’ store, Close Reach Imports, was believed to be the target of the September 2005 arson. Sells’ automobile was set on fire in front of the store after the September 1 public meeting and the building was torched the following night.
The V.I.P.D. never revealed what nearby Cruz Bay surveillance cameras captured of the two arson incidents. Federal law enforcement officials never released any details of their investigation into the incidents.
Sells’ store is no longer located at Meada’s Plaza, and Landis said he was unsure of the motivation behind these latest threats.
“I don’t know why they want to burn it down again,” said Landis. “It makes me mad.”
The contractor and his crew, who are from St. Thomas, did not recognize the person making the threats, explained Landis.
“The person making threats is not familiar to the contractor,” he said. “It’s just somebody out there saying things to the workers, who are from St. Thomas.”
Law Enforcement Notified
Cameras will be installed at the building, and local and federal law enforcement officials have been notified of the threats, according to Landis.
“We’re going to put up cameras on all the buildings,” he said. “I know Myrah sent a letter to the police commissioner. She’s also talked to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and they called her back and said they’re very interested in the case.”
FBI spokesperson Harry Rodriguez confirmed the bureau is aware of the threats.
“The FBI has received notification of this threat,” said Rodriguez. “However, the FBI cannot confirm or deny the existence of an investigation.”