CMS decertification could cost Luis $13M

ST. CROIX - Luis Hospital likely will start to feel the impact of being disqualified from participating in Medicare once November hits - and the financial blow could amount to about $13 million over six months.

That is according to Luis Hospital Interim Chief Executive Officer Dr. Kendall Griffith, who spoke during a carefully choreographed press conference Friday afternoon about the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' decision to decertify the hospital, effective Oct. 9.

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Women's Coalition to host activities honoring murder victims on National Day of Remembrance

ST. CROIX - Next week, residents across the territory will join millions of people throughout the nation in observance of the "National Day of Remembrance for Murdered Victims" commemoration activity for children.

The Women's Coalition of St. Croix and the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Council, or DVSAC, will host events for the local observation, now in its seventh year.

Sept. 25 has been set aside as the day designated to honor the memories of murder victims and to recognize the impact that homicides have on surviving family members and loved ones.

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New rabbi wants to help St. Thomians learn about Judaism

ST. THOMAS - Interim Rabbi Ron Herstik arrived earlier this month and has already hit the ground running, working to serve the Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas for the next year as they continue to search for a permanent rabbi.

The congregation's previous rabbi, Stephen Moch, left earlier this year.

Herstik has been a rabbi for 37 years, but retired from his latest congregation in Georgia a year and a half ago.

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Bryan files motion asking Superior Court to enforce ruling taking Hansen off ballot

ST. CROIX - The legal wrangling surrounding the placement of Sen. Alicia Hansen's name on the upcoming General Election ballot took a new turn, as Adelbert Bryan has filed a motion in V.I. Superior Court, asking Judge Douglas Brady to enforce his judgment and order issued to Elections Supervisor Caroline Fawkes to remove Hansen's name and to impose contempt sanctions for violating the order.

The motion for enforcement of judgement and imposition of contempt sanctions was filed Thursday by Emile Henderson III on behalf of Bryan, the chairman of the St. Croix Board of Elections.

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VIPD victim advocate charged with assaulting man with a corkscrew

ST. THOMAS - The V.I. Police Department arrested its own victim/witness advocate Friday morning after she was accused of jabbing a man with a corkscrew and threatening him with a butcher knife, according to court documents.

Deseree Ritter-Lambertis, 52, was arrested at 6:56 a.m. Friday and charged with third-degree assault, using a dangerous weapon and disturbance of the peace.

Ritter-Lambertis' role in the police department is to assist people who have been the victims of or witnesses to crimes in the territory, though police did not specify how long she has been with the department.

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Magens Bay Authority wants stray cats 'removed'

ST. THOMAS - The Magens Bay Authority Board has had enough of its resident feral cat population, a revelation that came as a shock to the animal rescue group that has been sustaining the population for more than five years.

The board had voted in July to terminate the Cat Cafe program, which has feeding stations for feral cats at more than 40 locations on the island of St. Thomas, according to Dellia Holodenschi, founder and president of Lucky Paws Foundation. The program has been in place since 2007.

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Luis loses Medicare accreditation on Oct. 9

ST. CROIX - A federal agency has disqualified Luis Hospital from participating in Medicare effective Oct. 9, citing the hospital's continued failure to meet standards.

That means that although the hospital will continue to treat Medicare patients who need its services - it is required by law to treat all patients, regardless of their ability to pay - it no longer will receive reimbursement for those services.

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GERS OKs Havensight contract, rejects Tibbar Energy investment

ST. THOMAS - After an executive session during Thursday's regular meeting of the Government Employees' Retirement System board, the board took two major actions: approving the management agreement for Havensight Mall and rejecting an alternative investment proposal from Tibbar Energy.

Board members also voted to put a moratorium on any new alternative investments until the board decides otherwise.

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Wilma Marsh-Monsanto threatens to leave meeting just to break quorum

ST. THOMAS - Before the St. Thomas-St. John District Board of Elections meeting began Thursday, board member Wilma Marsh-Monsanto told a Daily News reporter that she was planning to walk out of the room to prevent a quorum and to disrupt board proceedings.

However, she did not take such action, and the board had a quorum without her so it would not have made a difference.

Marsh-Monsanto said she is getting pressure from board Chairman Arturo Watlington Jr. to recuse herself from the board's business.

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St. Thomas Elections Board's late changes to ballot mean it may again miss federal deadline to send military ballots

ST. THOMAS - The St. Thomas-St. John District Board of Elections approved the district's ballot Thursday for the upcoming general election and added a non-binding ballot question about the length of senators' terms.

However, Elections Supervisor Caroline Fawkes already had sent out three absentee ballots - that did not have the additional ballot question - to military personnel working overseas in an attempt to meet the Saturday deadline.

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St. Croix man gets 15 years for child rape

ST. CROIX - V.I. Superior Court Judge Harold Willocks handed down a 15-year sentenced for a 70-year-old man convicted of sexually assaulting a young girl almost three years ago.

Alixford Sylvester appeared before Willocks during his sentencing hearing Thursday and told the judge and the court that he was sorry for what he did and for preying on the girl, who was 11 when Sylvester assaulted her.

Sylvester, who was 68 at the time of the assaults, said there was no excuse for what he did, and he asked everyone involved for forgiveness.

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Man found shot to death in Hospital Ground area

ST. THOMAS - V.I. Police have little information about the fatal shooting of a 52-year-old man Wednesday night on St. Thomas.

Victor Milliner was found lying in the road near Berg's Home in the Hospital Ground area about 7:05 p.m. Wednesday, according to police. An ambulance transported Milliner to Schneider Hospital, where emergency medical staff pronounced him dead.

The police issued few details about his death, as V.I. Police spokeswoman Melody Rames said Thursday that she did not know where Milliner was from, whether anyone was in the area at the time or whether there were any persons of interest.

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St. Croix man convicted of conspiracy to possess cocaine in N.Y. seeks new trial

ST. CROIX - St. Croix businessman Gary Thomas, who was convicted with two other St. Croix natives of drug conspiracy charges in July in the Southern District of New York, has petitioned the court for a judgment of acquittal or new trial.

The jury found Thomas, of William's Delight - along with Kirk Tang Yuk and Felix Parilla, who both live in Florida but are from St. Croix and still have ties to the island - guilty of conspiracy to possess cocaine with the intent to distribute it in the trial that began July 7 before District Judge Alison Nathan.

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Senate committee OKs bill decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana

ST. THOMAS - A bill that could decriminalize the possession of marijuana in small doses received unanimous approval from senators in a legislative hearing Thursday.

The bill passed through the Committee on Homeland Security, Public Safety and Justice with a 5-0 vote.

Senators Terrence Nelson, who sponsored the bill; Kenneth Gittens, chairman of the committee; Tregenza Roach; Clarence Payne III and Craig Barshinger all voted to pass the bill on to the Rules and Judiciary Committee.

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Attorney for man convicted in shooting says another man is admitting to the crime

ST. CROIX - One week after a V.I. Superior Court jury convicted Jim Wallace of firing shots at another man in the William's Delight housing community in 2010, his attorney has filed a motion with the court, saying that another man has come forward and claimed responsibility for the shooting.

Attorney Michael Joseph filed a motion for an expedited hearing on a motion for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence.

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V.I. sex offender registry council in danger of fines, lawsuits, suspension for understaffing

ST. THOMAS - A territorial council that is supposed to be overseeing the movement of sex offenders into and out of the territory is at risk of being fined, sued or suspended.

The State Council of the Interstate Compact for the Supervision of Adult Offenders has only three active members on the seven-seat council, according to Sen. Judi Buckley, who is one of those members.

On Thursday, Buckley proposed a bill that was denied Thursday by all members of the V.I. Senate's Homeland Security, Public Safety and Justice Committee, except Sen. Sammuel Sanes.

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Longtime St. Croix resident recalls Hugo's wrath

Editor's note: Judith Patalidis moved to St. Croix in 1968 to a house in Mary's Fancy, where she still lives today. Here is her account of her family's ordeal during and after Hurricane Hugo.

Very few Virgin Islanders had adequate warning that a monster storm had drawn a bead on us. Almost all of the V.I. government shut down on Friday evening with no special preparations.

Many islanders decided to throw "hurricane parties," a euphemism for snacking and drinking while the wind howled and the rain came down.

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Water Island resident considers surviving Hugo a badge of honor

Editor's note: Cindy Shearer moved to Water Island, where she still lives, in 1986. During Hugo, the island still was owned by the Interior Department, and she and her family and friends took refuge in an old ammunition bunker. Eventually, around Thanksgiving, they made their way to The Bitter End Yacht Club in Virgin Gorda for a hot shower.

Thinking back about Hugo, it's a badge of honor, of sorts, having lived through the now historic storm. I wear my "I survived Hurricane Hugo" shirt with pride, and joke that I need one that reads: "My Hurricane Hugo Shirt Survived Hurricane Marilyn."

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Senate committee passes bill to finance demolition, reconstruction of St. Croix's Paul E. Joseph Stadium

ST. THOMAS - The Senate Culture, Historic Preservation, Youth and Recreation Committee amended and passed a bill Wednesday that will allow the $20 million Paul E. Joseph Stadium project on St. Croix to finally move ahead.

The demolition of the existing structure and construction of a new stadium and sports complex has been a pending project for years.

"This project is vitally needed to insure that state-of-the-art sports and recreational facilities are established in the territory and to generate a capital improvement to assist in the revitalization of the St. Croix economy and particularly in the town of Frederiksted," Sports, Parks and Recreation Commissioner St. Claire Williams said Wednesday.

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72-year-old woman charged with child neglect after police find 2-year-old unattended in car

ST. CROIX - Police have arrested a 72-year-old woman on child neglect charges after reports that she left a 2-year-old child locked in her vehicle while she went shopping.

May Louis, of Barren Spot was arrested at 10:07 a.m. Wednesday on the single charge after reports to police that she left her granddaughter in a car parked in the Kmart Parking Lot in Estate Cane.

According reports, Louis is not the usual caretaker of the child and went into the store, forgetting that the child was with her. Police said she locked the car and left the child sleeping inside.

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ST. CROIX - A 36-year old man sentenced less than four months ago on charges stemming from a domestic violence rape report, was arrested Wednesday morning and accused of choking the same woman during an argument.

Neil Durant, of Castle Burke was arrested at 8:20 a.m. Wednesday and charged with second-degree assault. Police said Durant and the woman were arguing at their Castle Burke home when he put his hands around her neck and tried to strangle her.

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Audit finds V.I.'s property auction process is deeply flawed, details rigged bidding scheme

ST. THOMAS - A bidding scheme that may involve officials within the Lieutenant Governor's Office has compromised the territory's property auction process, according to a report released Wednesday by the V.I. Office of the Inspector General.

The report, written by V.I. Inspector General Steven van Beverhoudt, details a deeply flawed and likely manipulated process, primarily in the St. Thomas-St. John District.

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Driver runs over student's foot outside Complex

ST. CROIX - Traffic Investigation officers are following up on a case in which they said a student was injured by a passing vehicle early Monday morning.

V.I. Police spokeswoman Melody Rames said the boy, who is a student of the St. Croix Educational Complex, said a van rolled over his feet while he was standing near the Queen Mary Highway and the high school.

The accident was reported just before 7:30 a.m. Monday, and police were dispatched to meet with the injured boy and the driver of the Dodge Caravan involved in the accident, according to Rames.

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Joint Elections Board creates personnel committee after acrimonious discussion behind closed doors

ST. CROIX - The V.I. Joint Board of Elections reconvened its meeting Tuesday on St. Croix and after a three-hour executive session and voted to establish a personnel committee to handle employee matters.

The board meeting started out with a bit of contention as St. Croix District Board Chairman Adelbert Bryan objected to the ordering of the agenda for the meeting. He said the executive session had not been the first thing on the agenda and that other items had to be discussed.

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Feds list rare agave plant found on St. Croix as endangered

ST. THOMAS - A very rare plant, found in the wild only on St. Croix, is now under federal protection and will be listed as an endangered species.

Part of the federal protection includes saving 55 acres of critical habitat for the plant on the island.

The plant is Agave eggersiana - known as Egger's agave - an aloe-like plant native to St. Croix that has yellow flowers on tall stalks.

The protection came about after years of legal battles waged on behalf of the territory by the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group.

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Epidemiologist declares chikungunya epidemic in V.I.

ST. THOMAS - While the V.I. Health Department stood up to public criticism of its mitigation plan for the spread of chikungunya, a debilitating mosquito-borne virus, the department also declared that the territorial outbreak is officially an epidemic.

In fact, it has been an epidemic since May.

"As soon as we knew of the first case, it was an outbreak," said the Health Department's territorial epidemiologist, Dr. Esther Ellis.

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Aviation industry officials explore ways to make Caribbean travel cheaper, easier

ST. THOMAS - How could air travel within the Caribbean become easier, cheaper and more accessible? If it did, how would that affect the region's economy?

Those were just some of many questions tackled Tuesday during Caribbean Aviation Day, a one-day conference aimed at building up the region's aviation industry.

The aviation sector supports 140,000 jobs in the region and contributes about $3 billion - 7.2 percent - of the Caribbean's Gross Domestic Product, according to International Air Transport Association Regional Vice President of the Americas Peter Cerda.

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St. Croix Elections Board OKs final ballot

Before their emergency meeting broke apart in acrimony Monday afternoon, the St. Croix District Board of Elections managed to approve the ballot voters will use in the November election. And, after weeks of controversy, Alicia Hansen's name is on it.

However, the primary purpose of the meeting - to discuss its chairman's dissatisfaction with how the board and Elections supervisor have been represented in court - went unresolved.

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Judge denies Ronica Miller's request for reduced bail

ST. THOMAS - Ronica Miller, wife of the former Schneider Hospital CEO, asked for reduced bail Monday morning in V.I. Superior Court.

Judge Adam Christian shut down Miller's request, calling it "ironic," given that the requested $100,000 bail was for the same amount that a judge granted the 37-year-old after her initial arrest in South Carolina in October 2012.

Once free she fled, Christian said.

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Sauter's attorney leaves, saying she can't afford to pay him

ST. THOMAS - Rosemary Sauter-Frett cannot afford to pay her attorney, who announced in court Monday morning that he would no longer be representing the alleged Realtor-turned-fugitive.

Sauter-Frett sat alongside her attorney, St. Croix's Vincent Colianni Jr., in the courtroom gallery before appearing before Judge Denise Francois in V.I. Superior Court.

Colianni, who has represented Sauter-Frett in the past, patted his client on the back just before he made it known that he would be stepping down.

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Government considers withholding funds from hospitals' allotments to pay their WAPA bills

The Central Government is considering withholding a portion of the General Fund allotment to the territory's hospitals and using the money to pay hospital utility bills.

V.I. Finance Commissioner Angel Dawson Jr. said at a territorial hospital board meeting Monday that he and Office of Management and Budget Director Debra Gottlieb had been discussing the possibility of withholding the money from the hospitals' monthly allotments to pay their V.I. Water and Power Authority bills, so that they do not slip further into arrears. Dawson and Gottlieb are also members of the territorial hospital board.

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Feds to give V.I. $20 million in retroactive Medicaid claims

ST. THOMAS - Following an extensive audit of the territory's Medical Assistance Program, the federal government is giving the territory almost $20 million in retroactive Medicaid claim funds.

Gov. John deJongh Jr. sent proposed legislation to Senate President Shawn-Michael Malone on Friday that details how he would like to spend the money.

The one-time funding would be used for health care programs, mental health initiatives and to help bail-out the territory's hospitals, according to the governor's proposal.

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Carjackers need car owner's help starting vehicle before stealing it from Gallow's Bay

ST. CROIX - Police are investigating a Gallows Bay carjacking in which the robbers sought the victim's assistance in starting the car.

V.I. Police spokeswoman Melody Rames said officers were dispatched at 10:38 p.m. Saturday to assist a security guard who had been robbed.

She said the guard was sitting in his car in the parking lot outside the business he was securing when he was approached by a masked man who told him to cooperate with him and turn over his keys.

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St. Croix man gets 30 years in shooting at nightclub

ST. CROIX - Its been just over a year since a V.I. Superior Court jury convicted Khail Thompson of assault and related charges stemming from a 2004 shooting outside a Frederiksted, and on Friday, V.I. Superior Court Judge Harold Willocks sentenced Thompson to spend the next 30 years in prison.

In September of last year, the jury found Thompson guilty of first-degree reckless endangerment; first-degree assault; third-degree assault; unlawful possession of a dangerous weapon during the commission of a crime of violence; unlawful possession of a firearm; and unlawful sexual contact stemming from a Dec. 18, 2004, assault that began inside the former Culture Lounge Club on King Street in Frederiksted then spilled out into the streets.

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St. Thomas-St. John District hits cap for solar and wind power

ST. THOMAS - The cap for solar and wind power on the St. Thomas-St. John grid has been met.

The St. Croix net metering cap was met earlier this year.

No more net metering applications will be accepted territorywide, according to acting V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources commissioner Jean-Pierre Oriol.

Net-metering is a way of feeding excess renewable energy generated by a home or business into the V.I. Water and Power Authority grid for credit. That credit can then be used when the home or business needs to draw power from the utility.

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Report details how prisoner was able to escape

ST. CROIX - Severe staffing shortages, lack of supervision and exhaustion among staff at Golden Grove prison likely contributed to the May escape of an inmate who is accused of raping a woman before he was recaptured, according to a recently released report.

Golden Grove Adult Correctional Facility staff learned about the escape after a woman reported to police that the escapee, Rafael Joseph, had raped her and police contacted the prison inquiring after his whereabouts. It was then that prison staff did a head count and realized he was gone.

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Senator: HOVENSA has agreed to bid 'in principle'

ST. CROIX - HOVENSA has reached an agreement in principle with a buyer interested in purchasing the shuttered refinery on St. Croix's South Shore, and the V.I. government is set to begin negotiating with the entity on an operating agreement this week.

The company - whose name has not yet been disclosed - wants to re-open and operate the facility as a refinery, according to V.I. Gov. John deJongh Jr.

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Caribbean tourism conference set for this week on St. Thomas

ST. THOMAS - This week hundreds of tourism industry experts, government officials and members of the media will gather on St. Thomas for the Caribbean Tourism Organization's 2014 State of the Industry Conference.

Thirty flags representing the organization's member countries line the waterfront from Windward Passage Hotel to Fort Christian to welcome the territory's Caribbean neighbors.

While the conference itself will be Thursday and Friday at the Marriott's Frenchman's Reef, the executive committee and about 40 members of the media will begin to arrive in the territory today.

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Wholesale price of gas unchanged at HOVENSA racks

ST. CROIX - For the second week in a row, the wholesale price of gasoline at the HOVENSA truck racks did not change today.

HOVENSA each week evaluates its rack rates - the price of fuel purchased wholesale at the HOVENSA truck-loading station on St. Croix - and may adjust them. Any change in the weekly rate is made on Mondays.

With no change in the rate this week, independent gas station operators in the territory are paying $3.54 per gallon for regular gasoline, $3.74 per gallon for premium gasoline, and $3.46 per gallon for diesel fuel when they buy their fuel wholesale at HOVENSA. Those prices include the 14-cents-per-gallon tax that HOVENSA collects for the government.

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Elections includes Hansen on the ballot after judge grants supporters' motion

ST. CROIX - The latest twist in the saga of Sen. Alicia Hansen's quest to get her name on the General Election ballot took place Friday as Chief District Judge Wilma Lewis granted a motion by Hansen and five of her supporters seeking temporary, preliminary and permanent injunctions directing Elections Supervisor Caroline Fawkes to place Hansen on the upcoming ballot.

Fawkes said her office included Hansen's name on the ballot and met the 2 p.m. deadline to send out the close to 1,000 ballots to be printed for the military overseas voters and the absentee voters. She said the deadline to print the ballots for the polls is not until early next month, so if she gets another court order by then she would take corrective measures.

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St. Thomas Rescue retrieves body floating in Benner Bay

ST. THOMAS - After receiving a report of a possible body floating in the water near Saga Haven Marina, authorities on Friday afternoon retrieved the body of a man who police said lived on a boat in the area.

St. Thomas Rescue retrieved the body, which was seen "floating and bobbing" in Benner Bay, which is located off Estate Frydenhoj, at about 3 p.m.

V.I. Police spokeswoman Melody Rames said a scuba diver reported there was a body in the water. Police are investigating the man's death, and his body was turned over to the coroner for an autopsy, she said.

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V.I. marine industry leaders agree job growth, resourcefulness are needed to revitalize field

ST. THOMAS - Marine industry experts are hoping that the territory can take advantage of its existing assets to revitalize an industry that has lost steam in the last few decades.

About two dozen leaders in the industry convened this week at the University of the Virgin Islands to hold the "V.I. Marine Industry Forum," a forum organized by the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Agriculture and Planning.

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DEA finds $6M worth of marijuana plants on St. Thomas, St. John during helicopter sweeps

ST. THOMAS - The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration did a little weeding this week in the territory.

During "Operation Weed Eater," a weeklong effort to reduce the territory's marijuana supply, the DEA found and destroyed more than $6 million worth of marijuana plants.

The DEA uprooted 4,003 plants, which are valued on the street at $1,500 per pound, on St. Thomas and St. John, according to Eric Barnard, DEA resident agent-in-charge and commander of the regional High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force.

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IRB will publish list of delinquent taxpayers within next 30 days

ST. THOMAS - The V.I. Internal Revenue Bureau will publish a list of delinquent taxpayers in an effort to collect the millions owed to the government.

IRB Director Claudette Watson-Anderson said the last time the list was published the government pulled in about $5 million in back taxes.

The list will only be for delinquent Gross Receipts taxes and Hotel Occupancy taxes. The business or individual name will be published, along with the tax years that are delinquent. The outstanding tax amount will not be included.

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UVI student competes for title of Miss America

Miss Virgin Islands, Ashley Gabriel, will compete in Atlantic City on Sunday night against other women from around the nation in the Miss America Pageant.

Gabriel, who lives in Orlando, Fla., is 19 and attends the University of the Virgin Islands. Her platform issue, according to the Miss America website, is "The Importance of Early Childhood Development" and she said her scholastic ambition is to acquire a bachelor's degree in nursing with honors each year and to become a traveling nurse-midwife.

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Jury finds man guilty in William's Delight shooting

ST. CROIX - After a day-and-a-half of testimony and five hours of deliberations, a V.I. Superior Court jury returned a guilty verdict on every count for Jim Wallace, who was charged with reckless endangerment for a March 2010 shooting incident.

Testimony began Tuesday in the case where Wallace was charged with first-degree reckless endangerment; third-degree assault; and unauthorized possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence in connection with recklessly firing shots at another man as he drove in the William's Delight housing community.

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Crucians pay tribute to victims of Sept. 11 attacks

ST. CROIX - A 21-gun salute, the playing of "Taps" and the somber tolling of a firefighters bell marked the moments of a ceremony held Thursday afternoon to commemorate the thousands of lives lost 13 years ago on Sept. 11.

The event, organized by American Legion Post No. 85, began with a march in support of the troops overseas that traveled from Bassin Triangle to the Legion Hall on Hospital Street, where a noon ceremony took place.

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Attorney argues VIPD violated regulations, teen's rights when questioning him about murder of David Payne Jr.

ST. THOMAS - An attorney representing a man accused of murdering a schoolteacher two years ago suggested in court today that officers may have forced a confession from the defendant, who was underage at the time of the questioning, and that the officers may be under investigation themselves.

Rajesh Maharaj Jr., now 19, sat quietly in court Thursday during a suppression hearing as his attorney, Lenehn Ricks, questioned witnesses and experts about the way in which V.I. Police officers and detectives interrogated Maharaj, who was 17 when police initially questioned him.

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UVI considering proposal for eco-industrial park on St. Croix

ST. THOMAS - The University of the Virgin Islands board heard a proposal Thursday to develop an eco-industrial park on St. Croix.

UVI President David Hall said the project is in the very early stages and has not been approved yet by the board.

The goal is to commercialize the existing aquaponics program - raising tilapia fish - and perhaps expand it to include other agricultural efforts, such as greenhouse cultivation, Hall said.

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UVI plans public forums on medical school

ST. THOMAS - The University of the Virgin Islands board met behind closed doors for most of the day Thursday to hear proposals and updates on the territory's first medical school.

Board members felt that before a final decision was made on the location of the school's two facilities - a classroom facility and a simulation center - the public should be brought into the process, UVI President David Hall said after the meeting.

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