Simmonds Sentenced to Eight Years in Prison

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June 20, 2008 — In addition to paying back the full $1.2 million he siphoned off from a local-government account for his own personal use, former government aide Alric V. Simmonds will have to serve eight years in prison for embezzlement, conversion of government funds and grand larceny, a judge ruled Friday.
Simmonds' condo on St. Thomas and his 2000 Jeep Cherokee have already been signed over to the government, and will be sold along with various items from his home to help with the restitution payments, according to government attorney Denise George-Counts. The government will also get 75 percent of Simmonds' retirement checks while he's in jail, and 25 percent of the checks after he gets out, V.I. Superior Court Judge James S. Carroll III said during Friday's sentencing hearing
Simmonds did not go directly to prison. Defense attorney Harold Willocks asked that his client get a few days to "take care of some personal matters." Despite heavy opposition from the government, Carroll said Simmonds could have until Monday to get the rest of his affairs in order before he begins serving his time.
Willocks suggested that two to three years under house arrest would be an appropriate sentence.
"Mr. Simmonds comes before this court and the people of the Virgin Islands remorseful," he said. "For the most part, throughout his life, he was a viable member of the community, but something happened to change that. More and more people are going through that same change — and that change is gambling. This is not used as excuse or plea for mercy, just an explanation as to why someone with the distinction of Mr. Simmonds — who has lost everything, lost the name that he spent 60 years to protect — is now considered an embezzler, a thief."
Speaking softly, with his voice quivering with emotion, Simmonds echoed his attorney's remarks.
"I apologize to the people and government of the Virgin Islands, and to the court for the actions I have committed," Simmonds said. "I did live my life in an honorable way for more than 60 years, but then I became consumed … by gambling. Each day for the past two years has been stressful, shameful, embarrassing for the members of my family. I would be happy to repay the government all the money, and to try and get some kind of second chance in starting my life over at this age."
However, government attorneys recommended that Simmonds be sentenced to 25 years, with five years suspended. It's the court's responsibility to send the message that no government official is above the law — particularly when it comes to crimes that deal with "violating the people's trust," George-Counts said.
"Any message of leniency would only serve to breed a culture of corruption in this community," she said. "We ask that the court set a high standard that will have an impact on cases to come — and there will be more cases to come."
Simmonds was first arrested last April and charged with 94 counts of embezzlement, grand larceny and conversion of government funds for checks he wrote against an account originally set to hold funds awarded to the Bureau of Economic Research for the universal health-care program. At the time, agents from the V.I. Inspector General's Office said that Simmonds, over a period of four years, used the account as means to divert other government funds, writing more than 200 checks made payable to himself or to cash.
He was arrested again a few months later, this time on charges that he conspired with another individual to siphon off another $230,210 worth of government funds deposited into the same BER account.
By the end of the government's investigation, 305 checks were uncovered, and Simmonds had three cases pending against him. After Simmonds accepted an open plea agreement from the government, the cases were consolidated, but the charges against Simmonds still hinged on 145 checks written to purchase lottery tickets from a local dealer and items for his home such as granite countertops and mahogany cabinets.
"He turned this account into his own personal slush fund," George-Counts said Friday. "What he did was impact the financial structure of this government."
Despite Willocks' claims that Simmonds had a compulsive gambling problem, Carroll said Friday that pictures of Simmonds' condo showed that the former government aide was living "lavishly."
"We're talking about $1.2 million here — I don't think you spent it all on lottery tickets," Carroll said. "And a home detention would not send an appropriate message to the community. I think incarceration is called for."
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