Virgin Islands Gov Under Fire For Mishandling Fund Meant For Hurricane Victims

Chris White | Energy Reporter

Money donated to help citizens in the U.S. Virgin Islands deal with the aftermath of hurricanes is being used to pay staff members of a task force the governor created to help restore island infrastructure.

Dee Baecher-Brown, the president of the nonprofit Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands, refused to answer questions about the source of payments made to employees of Gov. Kenneth Mapp’s Hurricane Recovery and Resilience Task Force, according to local reports Wednesday.

Mapp, a Republican, has a history of using funds from the foundation for dubious payouts.

The governor implemented the 18-member task force in October 2017, a month after Hurricane Maria ravaged St. Croix. Hurricane Irma slammed the territory’s other two main islands — St. John and St. Thomas — just 14 days earlier. The storms delivered a one-two punch to the Caribbean territory.

Details about the group have been hidden from public view and it is unclear how many people the force employs.

Task Force Chief Executive Officer Dina Leroy refused to disclose where the funds are originating, instead telling reporters Tuesday after the task force’s final meeting that the foundation is responsible for any disclosures.

“I can’t disclose that,” Leroy said. “I guess I’m wondering why is disclosing it is important.”

Mapp also doled out money from the foundation to several private radio stations that operated during the hurricanes. He did not specify the amount of the funds but confirmed the money came from the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands. (RELATED: US Virgin Islands Are Not Prepared For Hurricane Season Despite Billions In Federal Assistance)

Radio stations play an important role in political campaigns in the U.S. territory. Some of the radio stations that received money provide commentary and let candidates and officials host radio shows, as well as air political advertisements. Mapp is running for re-election this fall.

The U.S. Virgin Islands is not the only Caribbean island struggling with financial problems and hurricane damage. (RELATED: Governor Of Scandal-Plagued Puerto Rico Seeks Audit Of Sketchy Public Utility Deal)

Puerto Rico filed for bankruptcy and closed nearly 200 schools in May 2017 to save $7 million, while simultaneously issuing 107 consulting contracts since January to questionable recipients. Puerto Rico also spent $256 billion in federal funds from 1990 through 2009, but only collected $74 billion in tax revenue.

About $4.7 million in consulting contracts went to companies with ties to government officials, more than $800,000 of which were public relations groups. Consulting contracts totaling nearly $389,000 were awarded to the marketing firm KOI Americas, which is owned by Edwin Miranda, a friend of former Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuno.

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