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SOMETHING MISSING IN AT&T SETTLEMENT

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There’s something missing in the AT&T settlement with the V.I. government. The arithmetic is off and so is the timing.
Government House hosted a ceremony Nov. 5 so Gov. Charles Turnbull could receive a $4.3 million check from the hands of Attorney General Iver Stridiron. Stridiron said at the time that another $400,000 would be forthcoming. But the local government actually received more than $6 million – three months ago.
The money represents a settlement of the government’s case against the company for ecological damage it says AT&T inflicted in Butler Bay in 1996 when it laid fiberoptic cable.
The case began in the Schneider administration. Originally the government attempted to fine AT&T $23 million. The settlement, announced last March, was for $8 million (in addition to $1.5 million that the company had already paid in 1998).
Of the $8 million that AT&T had to pay this year, $2 million was for penalties to both the U.S. and Virgin Islands governments. The other $6 million was to go to the territory "as permit fees for the Americas-II and subsequent cables, and to reimburse the government for related monitoring and legal costs," according to a March press release from AT&T.
Most of the $2 million in penalties, approximately $1.9 million, went to the U.S. government, AT&T spokeswoman Shelly deChabert said last week.
But, she said, the company wire-transferred the other $6 million-plus to the Virgin Islands on Aug. 6. The money did not go into an agency account, it went to the government’s outside counsel for the dispute, John Dema.
It would not be unusual for an attorney in such a case to deduct his fees and expenses from the settlement before turning the remainder over to the client. If that is what happened in the AT&T settlement case, it would mean attorney’s fees were about $1.5 million.
Attempts to reach Dema or Stridiron for comment were unsuccessful.
Dema did not respond to messages left in his voice mail Thursday, a holiday, or with his secretary and with his paralegal on Friday.
Stridiron did not return messages left at the Justice Department Friday.
Rina McBrowne, Government House spokeswoman, said she could not shed any light on the matter. She said she had seen the check, but did not know who had signed it.

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