Senate President Kenneth Gittens said Friday that the Office of the V.I. Inspector General is investigating a suspect $100,000 vendor contract that raised serious unresolved legal concerns among officials in the 32nd Legislature.
Gittens, who is the recently elected head of the 33rd Legislature, said he’s going to give Inspector General Steven van Beverhoudt time to perform his role as territorial auditor and complete a report before deciding how to proceed.
“The matter was referred to the inspector general for scrutiny,” Gittens said. “No disciplinary action has been taken, all these are allegations right now. I want to make sure that I cross all my T’s and dot all my I’s, I will assure the public that this matter will be taken seriously, and that’s why I’ve asked for the assistance of the Inspector General, but anyone who’s implicated in this, there will also be proper due process in making a determination.”
Gittens said he and other officials were unaware of the situation until provided copies of correspondence by The Daily News, and it’s unclear if it was ever resolved by leaders of the 32nd Legislature.
The Daily News obtained copies of documents and correspondence between Senate officials in 2017, showing a panicked response to the discovery that Legislature Business Director Michael Benjamin had apparently been negotiating a contract in secret without proper oversight and approval.
Documents show that Stridiron accused the contractor, Georgia-based Weems Design Studio, of altering what was supposed to be a no-cost extension agreement to reflect a $100,000 fee, and received checks totaling $100,000 for work that was not completed.
“It is my opinion that I was duped by Michael Benjamin. That Michael Benjamin took it upon himself to negotiate a $100,000 cost overrun with WEEMS for work which was to have been completed by the company at ‘no cost’ to the Legislature by November 30, 2016,” Stridiron wrote.
Despite a recommendation by Stridiron, Benjamin was never disciplined for the incident and remains business director.
Gittens emphasized Friday that Benjamin is not the only individual implicated by the documents who could face potential employment or legal repercussions.
“This should have been something that more than one person would have dropped the ball on this if that is the case, because even with the allegations, there’s not one signature to sign off on these matters. So, it wouldn’t be — what I’m basically saying is, it wouldn’t just be one person,” Gittens said. “Yes, he happened to be the business office director, but we also have the executive director and even to the president should have been involved in all these when it comes to contracts, and we’ve got to see exactly how the contract was done.”
Gittens said he wants to make sure the situation is thoroughly investigated before drawing conclusions.
“As the president of the 33rd, I will do due diligence in this, and I do take these matters very seriously, and I will do whatever I must to protect the taxpayers’ dollars,” Gittens said.
The inspector general will make recommendations based on his findings, and Gittens said he would work with the V.I. Justice Department to file criminal charges depending on the outcome of the investigation.
“I am prepared to do whatever is necessary,” Gittens said.