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SOMETHING MISSING IN AT&T SETTLEMENT

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There’s something missing in the arithmetic for the AT&T settlement with the V.I. government. And with the timing.
Government House hosted a ceremony Nov. 5 so Gov. Charles W. Turnbull could receive a $4.3 million check from the hands of Attorney General Iver Stridiron with the news media looking on. 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 settlement of the government’s case against the company for ecological damage it says AT&T inflicted in Butler Bay in 1996 when it was laying underwater fiber-optic cable.
The case began in the Schneider administration. Originally the government sought 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 the U.S. and V.I. 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 press release from AT&T issued in March.
About $1.9 million of the $2 million in penalties went to the federal government, AT&T spokeswoman Shelly deChabert said last week.
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 legal 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 by The Source to reach Dema and 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.
Government House spokeswoman Rina McBrowne said she could not shed any light on the issue. She said she had seen the check but didn’t know who had signed it.

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