2 VIPD sergeants charged with embezzlement

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ST. CROIX - Two V.I. Police Department sergeants were taken into custody early Thursday morning on charges that they, along with another woman, embezzled more than $17,000 from a police supervisors union's bank account.

Sgt. Lesley Hatchett, 48, of Work and Rest; Sgt. Freddie Ortiz, 43, of Constitution Hill; and Hatchett's daughter, Elisa Carmona, 26, of Estate Sion Farm all appeared before Magistrate Jessica Gallivan on Friday morning, after turning themselves in to police upon learning a warrant had been issued for their arrest.

The three were dressed in casual street clothes as they were led into the courtroom by a V.I. Superior Court deputy marshal, with their wrists handcuffed in front of them, standing shoulder-to-shoulder before the judge.

Gallivan advised them that they were all charged pursuant to the warrant issued on St. Thomas and face charges of conspiracy, which carries a penalty of five years imprisonment and up to a $1,000 fine, and obtaining money under false pretense, which carries up to 10 years in prison.

Ortiz and Hatchett additionally face a charge of embezzlement by fiduciary, which carries a penalty of 10 years in prison, and Hatchett alone faces a charge of forgery and faces 10 more years in prison if convicted.

According to the affidavit filed by James McCall, director of Special Investigations for the V.I. Justice Department, Hatchett served as secretary of the Law Enforcement Supervisors Union between January 2007 and April 2010, with Robert Matthews as the president. Ortiz served as president of the union from April 2010 to April 2012, according to McCall.

McCall, who was V.I. Police commissioner from 2007 to 2009, stated in his affidavit that in March 2012, Police Detective Anthony Hector, who was newly elected to head the union, contacted FirstBank and inquired about the balance on the account belonging to the union and was told the balance was just less than $6,000. Hector asked Matthews what the balance was when he left office, and Matthews said it was about $19,000, according to the affidavit.

Hector received information from the bank that the balance was just more than $23,000 in April 2012 and requested copies of cancelled checks, which revealed a number of questionable payouts from the account, according to McCall. He then filed an offense report with the department and later contacted Sgt. Mark Corniero, a special investigator, asking him to launch a criminal investigation into the missing funds, McCall wrote.

According to the affidavit, Hector called an emergency meeting of the LESU board and presented the checks that were signed by Hatchett to a travel agent for $1,300 and several other checks that had been made payable to cash and to Carmona. The board agreed to inform the full membership of the discovery, according to McCall's affidavit.

McCall said Hatchett contacted Hector by text message and admitted to writing the checks, saying that she was stupid for doing it but would have rather had a private meeting than having the information put out to the membership. She said she should not have done it and was not in debt or anything but may have been overloaded with work and responsibility, according to the affidavit. She also asked for a chance to pay back the money and move on, adding that she had never stolen before and was regretful, McCall wrote.

Hatchett turned in her letter of resignation as secretary, along with the union's checkbook, on April 19, 2012, and shortly after that, members of the union filed a complaint with the Justice Department regarding the embezzled funds, the affidavit states.

McCall wrote that Hatchett was a signatory, along with other members of the executive body, from 2007 and wrote 16 unauthorized checks between Feb. 6, 2009, and March 12, 2012, in amounts ranging from $275 to as much as $2,200, for a total of $17,124.

According to the affidavit, Hatchett wrote checks payable to Carmona or to "cash" and noted on the checks that the payments were for charity dinner donations, travel expense for members, training reimbursement, travel vouchers, administrative duties, training vouchers, accounting services and attorney fees.

The court document states that while Hatchett cashed most of the checks that were made to cash by using her driver's license or police badge number for identification, Carmona also used her driver's license and voter registration card to cash those made payable to her. The affidavit also states that Hatchett provided a second signatory on some of the checks and forged Matthews' name.

Ortiz, Hatchett's boyfriend, became involved in the case when she wrote a check from the union account for just more than $1,300 for a trip they both took to Las Vegas in April 2012, according to McCall.

According to the affidavit, when Ortiz was contacted, he stated that Hatchett was responsible for purchasing the airplane tickets, and he had paid for the 10-day hotel stay but he was not aware that she was using LESU funds to pay for the tickets.

McCall wrote that further investigation revealed that during Ortiz's tenure as president of the union between April 2010 to April 2012, he strategically blocked the elected treasurer Cecil Gumbs from being a signatory on the account, having knowledge of the account balance or from receiving any of the account statements, which goes against the union bylaws stipulating that the treasurer should handle all financial transactions.

Gumbs said he repeatedly made inquiries about the bank account, dues, deposits and expenditures, and Ortiz never gave him an answer, according to the court document. The affidavit states that Gumbs told investigators that Ortiz had given him a check book and frequently asked him to provide blank checks to Hatchett, but he declined every time. Gumbs told investigators that he did not know there was an additional checkbook, other that the one that Ortiz had given to him.

During the release hearing Friday, Assistant Public Defender Venetia Velasquez asked the court to allow each of them to be released on an unsecured bond in the amount of the $35,000 bail that was set on the warrant. She asked that the standard conditions of release apply, including that they sign in to the probation office on a weekly basis. Velasquez said all of the defendants have strong ties to the community and are not flight risks or considered dangerous.

Assistant Attorney General Denise George Counts from the V.I. Attorney General's Office on St. Thomas travelled to St. Croix to handle the case. She had no objection to the conditions of release, saying that the conditions already had been agreed to in discussions with the defense attorney.

Police Commissioner Rodney Querrard Sr. was unavailable for comment Friday night, but Assistant Police Commissioner Thomas Hannah said he has worked with the veteran officers for many years and it is very unfortunate that they have found themselves in the midst of allegations that they violated the law.

"It's important for all of our officers to uphold the law and abide by the same laws of our territory and the United States," he said. "Whenever we have any of our officers who violate the law in any manner, it throws a black eye on the entire department."

Hannah said the charges were made, the case was investigated and that led to the arrests. He said he expects the officers will get their due process like any other citizen.

In November, Superior Court Judge Michael Dunston sentenced former president of the St. Thomas-St. John Police Benevolent Association Donald Liburd to four years in prison but suspended all but six months of that sentence after Liburd pleaded guilty to one of 35 counts of embezzlement against him. Upon completing his incarceration, Liburd will be placed on three-and-a-half years probation, during which he has been ordered by the court to work to repay the $65,073 he is accused of stealing.

- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email fstokes@dailynews.vi.

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