Federal jury acquits former IRB supervisor accused of helping man avoid paying taxes

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ST. THOMAS - A jury acquitted former Internal Revenue Bureau supervisor Nealia Sprauve of all counts of fraud Tuesday in federal court. Sprauve was facing three counts of fraud after being accused of helping the father of her children, Joseph Clendinen Sr., avoid paying his income taxes to the bureau.

"What's this case about? Money. That's what this case is about. Abuse of power. Money and power. That's what this case is about," Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelly Lake said in her closing statement Monday.

The jury went into deliberation Tuesday.

Gabriel Villegas, federal public defender, said that Sprauve simply was being used as a scapegoat in the case and her offenses should only have been considered a personnel matter.

Clendinen, a former co-defendant, did not attend the trial, and online court records indicate that the District Court case against him was dismissed.

Clendinen, a former business owner, underwent competency tests late last year to determine whether he was capable of standing trial.

Tests conducted by a neurologist and a psychologist suggested that Clendinen was not competent enough to stand trial, but District Judge Curtis Gomez and the prosecution suggested that Clendinen possibly was faking being incompetent, which also is known as malingering.

Gomez suggested that the attorneys organize further competency tests to determine whether that is the case.

Based on online court records, the U.S. Attorney's Office filed a motion for dismissal of Clendinen's case without prejudice earlier this month. An order to grant the dismissal was filed the same day - Jan. 9 - though it was not accessible Tuesday at press time to see whether Gomez had signed it.

During the Sprauve's trial, Lake called several witnesses while the defense called none, and Sprauve chose not to testify on her own behalf.

Lake called as witnesses Internal Revenue Bureau employees who worked at the bureau during Sprauve's employment, as well as agents with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.

The basis of the prosecution's case was that Clendinen used Sprauve to file false income tax statements for 2006, 2007 and 2008 - all of which later were filed in 2010 - that under-reported earnings by $623,541 and evaded paying $89,310 in taxes.

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.

The prosecution contended that Clendinen cashed the checks and concealed income by paying employees under the table and that Sprauve used her position at the Internal Revenue Bureau to falsify Clendinen's tax status.

The prosecution claimed that 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.

"Not one of the documents is true," Lake said, insisting that Sprauve did not have the authority to approve the documents that she did. Still, after it appeared that the jury might be hung, or unable to come to a unanimous decision, they came back with the not guilty verdict Tuesday evening after a full day of deliberation.

"She was terminated. That was the appropriate sentence," Villegas said, noting that Sprauve already lost her job at the Internal Revenue Bureau and that no further action was needed.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.

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