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ST. THOMAS — One of the men accused of participating in a scheme to defraud the government through a property auction has admitted to his role in the conspiracy, V.I. Department of Justice Public Media Officer Corliss Smithen announced Wednesday.
Calford Charleswell, 50, of Anna’s Retreat pleaded guilty to taking part in the plot, which occurred during an Aug. 30, 2012 property bid conducted by the office of the lieutenant governor.
Charleswell faced 14 charges – one count each of conspiracy; recording a fraudulent certificate; obtaining money by false pretense; fraudulent claims upon the government; conversion of government property; grand larceny; forgery (recording a false note); embezzlement by public officer; embezzlement and falsification of public accounts and two counts each of forgery; forgery (uttering a false document); and criminally influenced and corrupt organizations – in connection with the crime. However, rather than face a jury, Charleswell accepted the terms of a closed plea agreement offered by Attorney General Claude Earl Walker.
Charleswell appeared in court for a change-of-plea hearing today and stood before V.I. Superior Court Judge Michael Dunston to formally admit to the crime. Under the terms of the plea bargain, Charleswell entered a guilty plea to the single charge of conspiracy and in exchange, the remaining counts against him will be dismissed, Charleswell will testify against the remaining defendants and he will be sentenced to a term of three years’ imprisonment with all but one year suspended. After he is released from prison, Charleswell will be placed on supervised probation, he has to complete 100 hours of community service and pay $1,000 in fines.
Charleswell was arrested Nov. 19, 2015, following an investigation by Nicholas Peru, special investigator in the office of the Inspector General. He was released from custody after posting bail.
According to the affidavit filed by Peru, Charleswell worked as Chief Enforcement Officer in the lieutenant governor’s office and as part of his duties, he was responsible for collecting property taxes in the St. Thomas-St. John district, preparing payment plans, property tax liens and property listings for auction, as well as conducting public property auctions.
On Aug. 30, 2012, Charleswell oversaw a public auction in the St. Thomas-St. John district. One of the properties auctioned was 97 Est. Frydenhoj, on which the opening bid was placed at $6,442.28. The first bidderplaced a bid of $75,000, a second person bid $42,000 and the third bid was $10,100; however, the bidder tracking sheet prepared by Charleswell showed that there were only two bidders on the property, according to Peru.
An unwritten policy developed by officials in 2012 required that the three highest bidders be recorded in the event that the highest bidder failed to meet the ten percent deposit amount, but the day after the auction, the winning bidder did not make the required deposit and the second highest bidder should have been contacted, Peru wrote.
On Sept. 4, 2012, a deposit of $2,000 was paid on a bid that was not noted on the record and on Oct. 11, 2012, a man paid the balance of $8,000 on the Est. Frydenhoj property and the office of the lieutenant governor transferred the property to that man for $10,000. Then, on Sept. 25, 2013, the man transferred the same property to another man, according to Peru.
The investigation revealed that certain procedural changes made by officials at the office of the lieutenant governor allowed individuals to fraudulently manipulate the bidding process in a scheme in which the highest bidder purposefully makes a substantially inflated high bid, then fails to post the ten percent deposit so that the property would go to another bidder or individual for a substantially low price, Peru wrote.
This manipulation prevented potential bidders from making fair and legitimate bids on properties offered at public auctions and potentially reduced the likelihood of the property owner recouping any excess proceeds from the sale after taxes and fees are paid, according to Peru.
Dunston has scheduled Charleswell’s sentencing for Mar. 22. Charleswell remains on bail pending his sentencing.
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