Williams' colleagues voice reactions to arrest

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ST. THOMAS - As news of Sen. Alvin Williams Jr.'s arrest on bribery charges spread across the Virgin Islands, public officials said the federal indictment tarnishes the image of the territory.

Many recognized that Williams is, under the law, innocent until proven guilty, but they said they were disappointed by the charges leveled at the sitting senator.

"I'm very sorry that it was necessary for the federal government to make arrests of employees of the Legislature," Sen. Craig Barshinger said. "However, it is even more important that justice be served equally for all people. Public servants need to be held accountable to a high standard, even higher than the public at large."

Sen. Nereida Rivera-O'Reilly said she was not shocked to hear about the arrest because of the FBI raid on Williams' office in October 2011. She said the indictment leaves the Legislature with a black eye.

"It's a sad day for the people of the territory, for the people of the Virgin Islands," she said. "It casts a bad light on elected officials in the territory."

Rivera-O'Reilly said she hopes the Senate can get past the incident and get back to doing the business of the people.

"I hope that this is a impetus for those who are going to be leading the institution in the 30th Legislature to take heed and address it early on so people have a sense of comfort knowing that lessons have been learned," she said.

She said the Legislature must take a close look at its contracting process, in order to eliminate conflict of interest.

"It is clear that that is one of the weak areas that we have to look at," she said.

While the senators cannot legislate away corruption, grey areas can be eliminated, Rivera-O'Reilly said. She said that when she tried to submit conflict-of-interest legislation, she was pre-empted by another senator. She hopes that senator will consider bringing forth the legislation in the next term.

"The brighter the light, I think, on the elected official, the less likely they will be to stepping over that line," Rivera-O'Reilly said.

Sen. Sammuel Sanes said it was a "dark day" for the Virgin Islands.

"It's not only him that loses, it's the community that loses," Sanes said.

Sanes said he had to have a difficult conversation about William's arrest with his 12-year-old daughter on Friday. He said her classmates were talking about it in school, and she wanted to know what was going on.

"I understand that he is innocent until proven guilty, but we are public examples to our younger generation," Sanes said.

Before the discussion, Sanes said he told his daughter to read a newspaper account of Williams' arrest.

"It's hard to explain to a 12-year-old that, unfortunately, these things happen in our community," he said. "At the same time, I was glad that she read the article, because her classmates were all talking about it. Our school children are aware of what's going on."

In a way, Williams' arrest sends a good message to the territory, Sanes said.

"I do think that it sends a positive message that there is accountability," he said. "Hopefully this is just a wake-up call to everybody."

A few senators have held some informal meetings about what direction the Legislature should go in the next two years.

"I am thinking about revamping our rules and regulations, thinking about implementing a transparency act," Sanes said.

St. Thomas senator-elect Clifford Graham said people do not take conflict of interest policies seriously enough in the territory.

"Ethics laws are something high on our priority list that we have to put in there for public and elected officials," he said.

When reached Friday, Sen. Janette Millin Young said she did not wish to comment on the arrest. Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone could not be reached for comment.

Senate Majority Leader Celestino White Sr. said people in the community are coming down on both sides of the issue - those who support Williams and believe in his innocence and those who already have decided he is guilty of the charges.

His view on the situation already has been expressed by the U.S. Attorney's office, White said.

"Sen. Williams, although indicted, the presumption of innocence is on his side," he said.

The rumors that have run rampant through the territory about future arrests of other senators are to be expected, White said.

"That is part of what you will hear," he said. "I'm not looking over my shoulder. I know that nothing that I have done warrants that type of thing."

- Contact Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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