US Virgin Islands ex-governor held on embezzlement charges

AP News
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Posted: Aug 18, 2015 4:22 PM

KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) — A former governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands and an ex-finance director in the U.S. Caribbean territory were arrested on charges of embezzling public money, authorities said Tuesday.

Acting Attorney General Claude Walker announced the arrests of former Gov. John deJongh and Julito Francis, once a director of the public finance authority for the three-island territory.

Walker alleged they used $490,000 of taxpayer money to pay for improvements to deJongh's private residence "without authority of law." The alleged embezzlement was between April 2007 and January 2009, when deJongh was governor.

"These funds were earmarked by the legislature to repair public roads," Walker said.

Neither deJongh nor Francis made any immediate comment on their arrest.

It's been known for years that deJongh used money earmarked for highway upgrades to pay for a perimeter fence and other security improvements at his private residence when he was governor.

When he took office in 2007, he chose to live in his own house rather than the mansion that has served as the official governor's residence. He asserted that renovating the mansion to accommodate his family and pay for other expenses would have cost $2.1 million of public money so staying at his upgraded home resulted in savings for islanders.

But in 2010, the U.S. Interior Department's Office of the Inspector General found that use of the public purse to upgrade deJongh's private residence circumvented the authority of the legislature.

Earlier this year, deJongh announced he paid back just over $200,000 to the territory for the upgrades. He said he came to that figure by assessing the current value of the security installations at his home and subtracting the cost of a guardhouse no longer in use now that he is out of office.

Lawmakers passed a resolution demanding full repayment, saying he really owed more than double what he repaid.

A conviction on embezzlement of public money is punishable by a maximum prison term of 10 years and a fine of $10,000, Walker said. Francis also faces charges of bribery, extortion and conspiracy in a separate case of alleged public corruption involving construction contracts.

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