Leroy Marchena, politically connected businessman, dies

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ST. THOMAS - A St. Thomas businessman with high-reaching political connections and a notable brush with controversy died on Wednesday at the age of 71.

Leroy Marchena was the president of Hibiscus Development, Corner Stone Business Consultants and Antillean Contractors and Developers, according to a press release issued early Friday by Government House. Marchena was also an active supporter of the territory's Democratic Party, a leader in the Harmonic Lodge and deeply loved baseball, according to the release.

In the release, Gov. John deJongh Jr. expressed condolences to Marchena's family. The release describes Marchena as a businessman and political activist.

"Leroy Marchena served this community in both public and private capacities," deJongh said in the statement. "He was a close adviser to governors past and his thoughts and advice were highly respected and sought after by those active in Virgin Islands politics."

Marchena's political ties entered the spotlight in 2007.

In June of that year, he appeared in the gallery of a St. Thomas courtroom during the advice-of-rights hearing for Alric Simmonds, a former deputy chief of staff to Gov. Charles Turnbull.

Simmonds was facing charges of embezzlement, conversion and conspiracy. When V.I. Superior Court Judge Brenda Hollar set Simmonds' bail at $100,000, Simmonds turned around and looked at Marchena in the back row of the courtroom, according to a Daily News story.

Simmonds and Marchena both shrugged.

Hollar later rejected an attempt by Marchena, Arturo Watlington Jr. and Marilyn Turnbull to bail out Simmonds, but Judge Leon Kendall subsequently released Simmonds on his own recognizance.

Simmonds eventually pleaded guilty and was sentenced to eight years in prison.

In November 2007, the same month in which Simmonds took that plea deal, a federal grand jury indicted Marchena alongside two members of Turnbull's Cabinet - former Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Dean Plaskett and former Property and Procurement Commissioner Marc Biggs.

Plaskett and Biggs were charged with using a web of fraudulent contracts to scam the government out of nearly $1.4 million and receiving bribes and kickbacks.

Marchena was charged with trying to thwart local and federal investigations into the scheme.

Plaskett and Biggs later were convicted of accepting bribes for a $650,000 contract for several coastal zone management projects.

Marchena dabbed away tears after the jury acquitted him of two charges of obstruction of justice, according to a Daily News story on the trial's verdict.

DeJongh also commended Marchena's public service on the governing board of the V.I. Water and Power Authority and as a member of the Virgin Islands Real Estate Commission.

"Leroy Marchena was a friendly and charming man who was impossible not to like," deJongh said.

- Contact reporter Lou Mattei at 714-9124 or email lmattei@dailynews.vi.

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