Aug. 15, 2001 — Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg is calling on the V.I. attorney general to investigate whether a consultant hired by the V.I. Public Services Commission has a conflict of interest.
In May, the PSC board, headed by Chairman Walter Challenger, hired AUS Consultants to conduct rate investigations of Innovative Telephone (formerly Vitelco) and the Water and Power Authority. Donastorg contends that AUS once did work for Vitelco, which, he said, constitutes a conflict of interest.
Donastorg also noted that AUS' president, Edward Salmon, was forced to retire as a commissioner on the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities in 1996. Salmon’s ouster was related to dinners he accepted from lawyers representing companies the New Jersey BPU regulated.
"What’s even more disturbing is that (Salmon) was involved in a breach of ethics that’s all too similar to the problems we have experienced here," Donastorg said in a statement Tuesday. "And if AUS has nothing to hide, why did they continue to avoid answering questions about their past work for Vitelco?"
In an earlier interview with The Source, AUS Chief Executive Officer Joseph Brennan said his company did consult for Vitelco, albeit nearly a decade ago. He also said AUS consulted for the government on other issues as well.
Donastorg also wants Attorney General Iver Stridiron to investigate the way the PSC board selected AUS. At the PSC’s May meeting where AUS was approved, the three commission members present voted to appoint the firm to conduct the rate investigations even though the seven-member board needs four people to make a quorum.
Commission member Desmond Maynard had been present at the start of that meeting but stormed out shortly after it began, in protest of hiring of AUS.
At the PSC’s June meeting, Challenger called for a re-vote because the board’s past actions “created an assumption of illegality."
He and fellow PSC members Patrick Williams, Alecia Wells and Luther Renee voted unanimously to approve AUS, which, according to Challenger has already begun working for the commission.
But, Challenger said, because AUS has been working "ad hoc" with no contract, no information is available about the work it has been asked to do, the work it has completed or how much it is costing the commission.
"AUS has been specially selected by the PSC in order to present the commission and Vitelco in the most favorable light possible," Donastorg wrote to Stridiron. "As the territory’s chief law enforcement officer, I know you understand . . . the importance of ensuring a fair and thorough rate investigation."
Donastorg wants Stridiron to order the PSC to hire a neutral consultant.
"This is a clear conflict of interest and I hope the attorney general will take appropriate action," he said. "AUS has been paid by the PSC to scrutinize Vitelco, which may even include scrutinizing work they themselves performed for the utility."
Gov. Charles Turnbull last month nominated five members to the PSC board. One of the five, Alric Simmonds, Turnbull's deputy chief of staff, would replace Challenger. Challenger's term expired June 2, 1999.
Donastorg voiced skepticism about the timing of Turnbull’s nominations. He said he found it disturbing that Turnbull only appointed new members after AUS was hired.
"Was this a conspiracy?" Donastorg asked. "We know the PSC was so desperate to hire AUS Consultants that it acted without a quorum. It’s not unreasonable to believe that nominations were withheld until the rate investigation had been dispensed with."


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