ST. CROIX — Three men charged with conspiring to steal millions of taxpayer dollars intended for implementation of the Real ID Act are still awaiting trial, according to the V.I. Superior Court records.
Jerris Browne, former director of the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, Gregory Christian, former Management Information Systems administrator for Motor Vehicles, and Syed Gilani, president of BIZVI, were charged in June 2017 with several crimes, including embezzlement and a variety of fraud charges, as well as an alleged violation of the Criminally Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
The three men have pleaded not guilty and are scheduled to appear in V.I. Superior Court for a status conference on Jan. 29. Browne and Christian are free on their own recognizance but must abide by certain conditions of release, and Gilani was released to the third-party custody of his wife on a $200,000 unsecured bond.
The Real ID Act, passed by Congress in 2005, established minimum security standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards — and prohibits federal agencies from accepting for official purposes licenses and identification cards from states that do not meet those standards.
Browne applied for federal funding for the Real ID program in the territory in September 2008 and from fiscal years 2008 through 2011, the Virgin Islands received more than $2 million in grant money from the Department of Homeland Security to bring the territory into compliance with the mandates of the Real ID law, former V.I. Attorney General Claude Walker said in 2017.
The men conspired to misuse that money “through a pattern of fraud, deceit, and trickery,” Walker said at the time. “We did an extensive investigation, based in part on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security seeking answers from the Virgin Islands as to what happened to the over $2 million that they gave to the territory between 2008 to 2011 to implement Real ID.”
Acting Attorney General Joseph Ponteen and former Bureau of Motor Vehicles Director Lawrence Olive could not be reached for comment Friday.
Walker said in 2017 that “Gilani was allowed to utilize his other two companies, Z-Square Technology and VI Simple Technology, to manipulate the bidding process by making it appear that these companies were independent companies, engaged in competitive bidding as required by law,” when “in fact, they were one in the same, controlled by the same persons.”
Prosecutors have also said Browne and Christian paid Gilani’s companies for work that was not performed, and duplicated requests for work that was supposed to have already been completed, which “resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars being spent on the project, yet the work was still not performed,” Walker said at the time of the arrests.
Gilani has in the past been lauded for leadership of his fast-growing tech, research, marketing and training company in the territory. In 2011, he was honored at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York by the Asian American Business Development Council as one of 50 Outstanding Asian American Business Leaders in the country.