United States Virgin Islands Gov. John de Jongh, a Democrat, could soon face a recall initiative brought by the U.S. territory’s legislature later this week. A Daily Caller investigation last week uncovered allegations that de Jongh accepted cash bribes in exchange for facilitating the sale of a telecommunications company to a politically embattled U.S. telecommunications cooperative. And now a senator from the U.S. territory has announced plans to pursue an election to recall de Jongh.
According to a knowledgeable government official who served on a Department of Justice team put in place to arrest finance executives close to that telecommunications deal, de Jongh accepted a portion of at least $20 million in cash bribes that floated throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands government. The U.S. Department of Justice, the source said, never acted on sealed indictments related to a years-long criminal scheme involving bank fraud and other financial crimes.
The bribes, according to the source, were for de Jongh, his attorney general Vincent Frazer and assorted Virgin Islands legislators — all aimed at quashing local concerns about financial irregularities identified on the books of the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Cooperative (CFC).
U.S. Virgin Islands Sen. Terrence “Positive” Nelson, a member of the Independent Citizens Movement political party — which tends to be more liberal than the Democratic Party — told TheDC Monday that he will launch an effort on Wednesday to recall the governor. if his initiative stalls in the territory’s Senate, Nelson said, he will take the recall measure directly to the public.
To force a recall election, Nelson said in a phone interview, he “would need 10 votes. I can’t say that I ‘have’ eight, but from speaking cordially with some of my colleagues, they seem like they’re willing to support it. Again, you know how politics is. But, there seems to be a willingness to support the recall initiative.”
Nelson told The Avis, a newspaper in St. Croix, that he has a “strong eight” of the ten votes locked up. “I’ve had some commitments for the vote already,” he told the newspaper. The U.S. Virgin Islands Senate has 15 members.
While Nelson wouldn’t say which of the U.S. Virgin Islands’ 15 sitting senators supported his initiative, one likely vote — Sen. Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly — told TheDC she would have to see the measure before she decided. “There is absolutely a need for us to deal with the situation,” she said.
“I think that a basis has been established for an attempt to put his name [de Jongh] on a ballot for people to decide whether or not they want him to continue in a leadership role,” Rivera-O’Reilly added.
Nelson said there are reasons for the recall push beyond the most recent bribery allegations, including accountability questions surrounding another de Jongh scandal known locally as “Mafoliegate.”
Nelson recently criticized the governor for what he called his “continued involvement in what seems to be financial crimes.”
“The general feeling here toward this governor,” he told TheDC, reflects “his involvement in backroom deals and just a lot of general suspicions around him.”
While Nelson did not comment specifically about de Jongh’s potential acceptance of bribes in the telecommunications case, he did say something seemed wrong when the bankruptcy-plagued Innovative Communications Corporation was sold to the CFC over the objections of former ICC chief Jeffrey Prosser.
“There seemed to have been some behind-the-scenes activity having taken place in what was happening with the whole Innovative and Mr. Jeffrey Prosser shakedown,” Nelson said. “It appears that there were some dealings through an attorney that worked on the Virgin Islands Attorney General’s office, who was Vincent Frazer at the time, and who was sent to court to represent something that may not have been accurate.”
The other de Jongh scandal, “Mafoliegate,” stemmed from an 2010 Interior Department Inspector General investigation.
The IG report concluded that de Jongh used approximately $500,000 in public road-repair funds “improperly” — to upgrade his private mansion — but he has yet to be held accountable . Nelson said that rather than face any charges for stealing taxpayer dollars, de Jongh promised he would pay the money back before he left office.
Asked if the governor has made good on that promise, Nelson responded, “Oh no, he sure hasn’t, and he probably doesn’t intend to.”
Rivera-O’Reilly said allegations that de Jongh accepted bribes are troubling, but she’s reserving final judgment on that until she sees hard evidence.
“Do you know how difficult it is to make decisions when you can’t trust the people in government?” she asked. “It’s not an easy position to be in. I wish, and it would my wish, that I could look at a measure and look at it on its fairness, on its face value, without worrying whether or not my vote is going to enrich someone else illegally.”
Referencing TheDC’s reporting about de Jongh’s alleged role in the CFC scandal, Rivera-O’Reilly said, “Your article doesn’t make me warm and fuzzy at all.”
“If this is all true, then people need to come out with the evidence and people need to be held accountable because it’s not right for our territory to continue to function under that dark cloud.”
Nelson said if he can’t persuade ten senators to back his call for a recall election, he will launch a citizen-driven initiative to collect the 21,000 signatures required to force the recall. and, he told TheDC, he is “definitely” prepared to go down that path.
“I’m ready to go wherever it takes because I just can’t imagine myself and imagine the Virgin Islands under this tyrant of a governor for the next three years,” he said. “He has just begun his second year of his second term and his policies and his attitude and his vindictiveness toward the people of the Virgin Islands who are not in support of his policies is maligned with maliciousness.”
Nelson also made a plea to the federal government for help fighting local corruption.
“We do not want a federal [government] takeover, but we want federal assistance because there has been corruption embedded here in government for quite some time. It is not only with this administration,” he said.
“I do not want the people of the world to feel all Virgin Islands elected officials are thieves or money-hungry whoremongers. We’re asking for federal assistance in conducting audits and even locking up who needs to be locked up because there are some of us here who are willing to put our house in order but the Old Guard are making it complicated.”