Biggs wants court to amend his sentence

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ST. THOMAS - District Judge Curtis Gomez on Thursday cut short an evidentiary hearing called by former V.I. Property and Procurement Commissioner Marc Biggs, who wants the court to revisit the sentence he received after he was convicted of bribery charges in 2008.

Biggs is asking the court to review his sentence, specifically his fine of more than $960,000, and seeking to have it vacated by way of claiming that the court officials and his counsel were responsible for what he believes is an excessive sentence.

Gomez decided after less than an hour on Thursday that the hearing was unnecessary, after Biggs' mother, Melba Biggs, and Biggs' former counsel, defense attorney Treston Moore, testified in court.

Gomez said that the matter ultimately could be resolved by his own review of Biggs' most recent motion, which was filed in late March, according to PACER, an online court records system.

Melba Biggs testified Thursday that she was barred from her son's jury selection process, which Marc Biggs contends violated his right to a public jury trial.

Through a motion filed in March, Marc Biggs also is claiming that his Sixth Amendment rights were violated because the jury was not consulted about the fine that was levied against him.

Biggs also said that his former counsel, Moore, was ineffective, though attorney Jeffrey Moorhead said toward the end of Thursday's hearing that Biggs withdrew that complaint. It is unclear whether Moorhead is Biggs' new counsel, as Biggs' court documents all say that he now is representing himself.

Biggs now is out on a supervised work release program and has been rehired by the V.I. government, the entity against which he initially committed his offenses. He was sentenced in August 2008 to 84 months imprisonment and fined $960,482.

The sentence followed a federal jury's 2008 conviction of Biggs and former Department of Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Dean Plaskett.

A Daily News Investigative report, "Contracts and Cronies," revealed that Biggs and Plaskett accepted bribes in connection with a $650,000 contract to do several projects in the coastal zone. The contract was awarded to a fake company, Elite Technical Services, created solely for the purpose of payoffs and kickbacks.

The Daily News project prompted a federal investigation that resulted in the arrests of Biggs and Plaskett.

Plaskett also was convicted of two counts of obstruction of justice.

St. Thomas businessman Leroy Marchena, who also was indicted in the case, was acquitted of all charges against him.

Today, Biggs is working for WTJX, the Virgin Islands Public Television System, as the facilities coordinator. His annual salary is $42,000, according to V.I. Public Television System Chief Executive Officer Osbert Potter.

It is unclear how much of his fine Biggs has paid off. Moorhead could not be reached for comment after the hearing Thursday.

However, Biggs' motion makes it clear that he is seeking to avoid paying the entire amount. He argues that in the case of Southern Union Co. v the United States, the court decided to review a sentence because "the jury never was granted the opportunity to render a verdict on such fine" in that particular case, the motion states.

According to a U.S. Supreme Court decision, the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution reserves the jury's right to make "the determination of any fact, other than the fact of a prior conviction, that increases a criminal defendant's maximum potential sentence," the motion states.

While the principle is more often applied to cases in which the sentence was imprisonment or death, the court decided that it could also be applied to sentences of criminal fines.

The charges in the original case stemmed from what prosecutors said was an elaborate kickback scheme.

Between 2000 and 2004, about $1.4 million in government contracts were awarded to several sham companies - most notably Elite Technical Services and companies related to it - in exchange for thousands of dollars in kickbacks to government officials. Most of the companies were unable to perform the work and produced very few results, yet they were paid.

In January 2005, the FBI, the U.S. Treasury Department's Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of the Inspector General, the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Virgin Islands and the V.I. Inspector General launched a mass investigation of the contracts following The Daily News investigative report.

A federal grand jury was empaneled in March 2005 to investigate the criminal nature of the scheme.

The two-year federal investigation led to four co-defendants pleading guilty to conspiracy charges related to the scheme, including two former DPNR division directors.

Later, in November 2007, Plaskett, Biggs and Marchena were indicted.

Their February 2008 trial resulted in the convictions for Plaskett and Biggs - although the jury also found the two men not guilty on a number of other charges.

Biggs maintained his innocence when he was sentenced in August 2008 to seven years in prison. Plaskett got a nine-year sentence.

Biggs and Plaskett also were ordered to pay back the money, almost $1.1 million for Plaskett, and more than $960,000 for Biggs.

After Thursday's proceedings, Gomez said he will issue a ruling at later date.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email

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