Competency of one of two defendants in tax evasion case remains in question
Published: October 25, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - No one in District Court on Thursday - Chief District Judge Curtis Gomez, the prosecution and defense attorneys, a psychologist and a neurologist - could say with certainty whether former business owner Joseph Clendinen Sr. is competent to stand trial for tax evasion.
Clendinen appeared in court for a competency hearing alongside his co-defendant, Nealia Sprauve.
While Sprauve, a former V.I. Bureau of Internal Revenue supervisor, was found competent enough to stand trial, Clendinen's competency remains in question.
Tests conducted by a neurologist and a psychologist suggested that Clendinen is not competent enough to stand trial, but Gomez and the attorneys suggested that it is possible Clendinen is faking being incompetent, which also is known as malingering.
Malingering is a term used for people who fake competency to avoid the consequences of their actions, according to witness and psychologist Dr. Lori Thompson.
Clendinen is facing charges of conspiracy to evade or defeat taxes and three counts of attempting to evade or defeat taxes. Sprauve is facing charges of conspiracy to evade or defeat taxes and three counts of fraud by a Bureau of Internal Revenue employee.
Clendinen is accused of filing false income tax statements for 2006, 2007 and 2008 - all filed in 2010 - that under-reported earnings by $623,541 and evaded paying $89,310 in taxes.
If convicted, Sprauve and Clendinen each face up to five years for each of the charges.
"In the interest of a complete, thorough competency exam, we should conduct more tests," Gomez said, noting that Clendinen's competency had taken a curious dive since previous exams.
In earlier court proceedings, neurologist Dr. James Nelson found Clendinen to be mildly incompetent. Nelson noted that Clendinen had a traumatic brain injury that damaged about one-third of his brain.
However, in court Thursday, Thompson said that Clendinen severely failed several competency tests that she had him perform during an hour-long evaluation she conducted.
She asked him questions such as, what would he do if a water pipe broke at home; what would he do if he woke up at 8 a.m. and he had an appointment at 8 a.m.; and what month and year it was.
"He appeared to understand some questions, and he didn't understand others," Thompson said.
However, Thompson did not perform any tests for malingering, which are separate from the basic evaluation and can take hours, she said. Without those tests, Thompson said she could not tell whether Clendinen was malingering.
"It's hard to answer that," she said when Gomez asked her whether she thought that Clendinen was being deceptive. "He does seem to be very impaired."
Clendinen's attorney, Leonard Francis Jr., and Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelly Lake, asked that more tests, specifically malingering tests, be given to Clendinen.
Sprauve's attorney, Gabriel Villegas, asked that the process move forward as quickly as possible for his client, who will face trial no matter the outcome of Clendinen's tests.
Clendinen owned JC Security Services, which provided security at St. Thomas and St. John ports through a contract granted by the V.I. Port Authority. Clendinen received a paycheck from the Port Authority every two weeks.
Clendinen cashed the checks and concealed income by paying employees under the table, according to court documents.
The prosecution contends that Sprauve used her position at the Internal Revenue Bureau to falsify Clendinen's tax status.
To qualify for the contract with the Port Authority, Clendinen used false tax clearance letters that Sprauve provided to qualify for a Watchmen, Guard or Patrol Agency license, a distinction overseen by the V.I. Police Department, the indictment states. Sprauve also falsified Clendinen's tax information so it appeared up-to-date, according to the indictment.
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