Governor's chief of staff resigns under cloud
Published: July 10, 2012
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ST. THOMAS - Gov. John deJongh Jr.'s chief of staff, Pamela Berkowsky, resigned suddenly Monday amid questions about her involvement in a movie theater project.
In her resignation letter, dated Monday and effective by the end of business Monday, she said she is resigning with "mixed emotions."
Berkowsky's letter details her commitment to the Virgin Islands and said it was an honor to serve the governor and the people of the territory.
She also describes a private business venture in which she and her husband, Dr. Adam Shapiro, are involved. In the letter, Berkowsky explains that she had a blind trust set up for the business so that it would remove her from any potential conflicts of interest.
Berkowsky's resignation comes three days after members of the V.I. Legislature asked the governor's financial team about Berkowsky's involvement in the venture during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Friday.
Berkowsky could not be reached for comment Monday.
In a statement released Monday, the governor said he accepted her resignation.
"I thank Pam for her tremendous service to our territory over the past six years during which time she has been a devoted and hardworking public servant on behalf of the people of the Virgin Islands; I wish her nothing but the best in the pursuit of her future endeavors," deJongh said.
Government House spokesman Jean Greaux Jr. said Nathan Simmonds, currently serving as the governor's deputy chief of staff, will serve as interim chief of staff. Simmonds was arrested for embezzlement in 1976 and admitted to killing a man in 1993. He previously has worked as post auditor for the V.I. Legislature and as part of the governor's financial team under the administrations of Gov. Charles Turnbull and deJongh.
In her resignation letter, Berkowsky said she and her husband got the idea for a "4D" giant movie theater tourist attraction before she took a job with the governor.
At the Senate Committee hearing Friday, Sen. Nereida Rivera-O'Reilly asked V.I. Public Finance Authority Executive Director and Finance Commissioner Angel Dawson Jr. if the PFA had been approached by the governor's chief of staff for funding for a movie theater development. Dawson said he was aware of the project but that he had no meetings about a funding request and there was nothing pending before the PFA.
DeJongh is chairman of the Public Finance Commission.
O'Reilly told The Daily News that she heard - after the fact - that the movie theater project for which the Senate voted to approve a zoning change last month was Berkowsky's project. The zoning applicant was Guardian Insurance, which owns the property.
O'Reilly also said she was told the movie theater project would be seeking financing from either the Public Finance Authority or the V.I. Government Employees Retirement System.
"I was sick to my stomach," O'Reilly said.
Berkowsky assumed the position of chief of staff on Oct. 1, following the retirement of Louis Penn Sr. Prior to the top job, Berkowsky had been the governor's deputy chief of staff since his inauguration on Jan. 1, 2007.
Berkowsky was an assistant chief of staff to U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen during the Clinton administration. She also held key positions in the Department of the Navy.
She graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and earned a master's degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.