Home News Local news Prosecutors: Plaskett and His Wife Outspent Earnings by $30,000

Prosecutors: Plaskett and His Wife Outspent Earnings by $30,000


Feb. 22, 2008 — In the midst of the Elite Technical Services scandal, former DPNR commissioner Dean C. Plaskett and his wife were spending $30,000 more than they were earning, prosecutors said Friday.
The claim was made as Plaskett was cross-examined on the stand in District Court. He and another former commissioner, Mark Biggs, are being tried on St. Thomas on charges of conspiracy, bribery and obstruction of justice in what prosecutors say was a scheme that defrauded the government of $1.4 million.
Plaskett said he was "surprised" by prosecutors' assessment of his finances. Prosecutors cited the purchase of three vehicles during 2004 and extensive renovations made to his home on St. Croix — a project that ended up costing upwards of $90,000. U.S. prosecuting attorney Armando Bonilla also pointed out that Plaskett's ATM withdrawals climbed to $12,000 during 2003.
On Wednesday, a representative from Caribbean Auto Mart said that in on eyear Plaskett bought a Toyota Avalon, a Toyota Tundra and a GMC Envoy. On Thursday, Plaskett said the Avalon was for his wife, who later said that the car was "too low" to the ground. Plaskett said he then replaced it with the Envoy.
On Friday, Bonilla pointed out that the Envoy was purchased in January while the Avalon was actually bought two months later.
"So your testimony is inaccurate," Bonilla said. "The purchases were actually done in reverse."
"I testified to the best of my recollection," Plaskett said. "But I stand corrected."
On Thursday, Plaskett said downpayments on two of the cars were paid by a mix of cash and checks, while the third vehicle was financed completely through the bank. He also said the couple traded in two older cars during the purchasing process.
Contractor Vionisi Lorenzo testified earlier in the week that in 2003 Plaskett paid him between $20,000 and $25,000 in cash for renovations to Plaskett's house on St. Croix. Plaskett asked him not to include the cash payments on any invoices or payment records, Lorenzo said.
On Thursday, Plaskett said he generally paid the contractor by check, with a few of the checks made out to cash. On Friday, Plaskett added that he also paid Lorenzo in cash for the first few months of the project.
"Mr. Lorenzo said that the first portion of the job required laborers, and they preferred to be paid in cash," Plaskett explained, after Bonilla reminded him that Lorenzo's records had shown no payments for the project between February and August 2003.
"He was being paid in cash," Plaskett said, adding that he had been "saving money" in the bank at that point in time.
Prosecutors have said that Plaskett and former Property and Procurement commissioner Marc Biggs awarded $1.4 million in fraudulent government contracts to Elite and other companies, and received hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and kickbacks in return. Once investigators started probing into Elite's operations, Plaskett joined hands with prominent V.I. businessman Leroy Marchena to cover up the scheme, prosecutors allege.
Taking the stand Thursday, Plaskett denied having any knowledge of the scheme and laid the blame on Griffin and Blyden, who started the scam by pushing through a $125,000 permit-review contract for the construction of a new coker plant for Hovensa's facilities on St. Croix. Eventually, when investigators began looking into Elite, Plaskett ordered his staff to gather "all files and information" they could find on the fraudulent contracts, which were subsequently turned over to the V.I. Inspector General's Office, Plaskett said.
Around the same time, reporters from the V.I. Daily News were also looking into Elite and requesting that DPNR hand over certain documents relating to the company's operations and contract awards.
At the time, Blyden said he couldn't find the Elite file and explained that the documents were either divided between DPNR's headquarters on St. Thomas and St. Croix, or had been "surreptitiously removed from his office," Plaskett said Friday.
When Bonilla asked why Plaskett had not told investigators about the missing file, Plaskett replied, "because they didn't ask me."
"If there was a paper trail showing how Elite was selected for certain contracts, that would have been helpful," Bonilla responded.
Bonilla said Plaskett also failed to tell investigators that he subsequently charged Blyden with finding a way to get all the work completed on the Hovensa permit-review contract, which had fallen by the wayside when Elite took on the job four years before.
"You didn't share that you had asked Mr. Blyden to find someone to do the review, or to find a way to do it himself," Bonilla said. "Why is that?"
"They didn't ask," Plaskett replied. "And I didn't see the importance of telling them something that had nothing to do with Elite's failure to do the work."
Early last week, Griffin testified that Plaskett had, in fact, ordered Blyden to find a company willing to backdate the review documents, making it look like the work was actually completed when Elite was awarded the contract in 2000. Griffin added that Blyden and Modeste subsequently paid him a visit in Atlanta, and said that Georgia businessman Barry Bennett, head of Metals and Materials Engineers (MME), had agreed to do complete the review.
Last week, Bennett testified that he was unwilling to do the project after Griffin told him what it entailed. Bennett said he subsequently traveled to the territory to discuss the issue with Marchena, who picked him up at his hotel with Plaskett in the back seat of the car. The trio then traveled to Marchena's house, where Plaskett asked him repeatedly to do the back-dated review, Bennett testified.
On Friday, Plaskett said that he had come over to St. Thomas that day to attend an unrelated meeting, and had planned to stay the night at Marchena's house. The two were going to go out for dinner when they stopped to pick up Bennett, Plaskett said. He added that that was the first time he had met, or heard of, Bennett.
Once at Marchena's house, the two got to talking, Plaskett said. After hearing that Bennett was an engineer, Plaskett asked if he would be willing to do a "current" review for the Hovensa project. Since Bennett refused, the subject was dropped, Plaskett said.
Showing the jury airline records for both Plaskett and Bennett, prosecutors indicated Friday that the meeting might not have been coincidental, since both Plaskett's flight itinerary on Seaborne Airlines and charges on Bennett's American Express bill show travel plans for Jan.18, 2005.
Throughout the day, Plaskett maintained that he had no involvement in the Elite scandal, and did not know the details of fraudulent contracts, which he has said were shepherded through DPNR by both Griffin and Blyden.
The trial will resume Monday morning with closing arguments from both sides.
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