WTJX hires convicted felon Marc Biggs

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ST. CROIX - Former V.I. Property and Procurement Commissioner Marc Biggs, who is on home confinement as the remaining months on his federal prison sentence for accepting bribes wind down, has landed another V.I. government job.

Biggs, 48, went to work Monday as the facilities coordinator on St. Croix for WTJX, the Virgin Islands Public Television System, according to V.I. Public Television System Chief Executive Officer Osbert Potter.

"I know his hiring might be a little controversial, but we're an equal employment opportunity entity," Potter said, adding that he feels Biggs was the best candidate for the job. "We certainly feel that his extensive experience in Property and Procurement matters will serve us well here at the system."

It was while he was Property and Procurement commissioner during the Turnbull administration that Biggs engaged in the conduct that led a federal grand jury to indict him on various public corruption charges in November 2007. Biggs was convicted in February 2008 of one count of accepting bribes.

Biggs declined to be interviewed for this story.

Raul Carrillo, protocol officer for the Governor's Office, seemed unaware on Monday of Bigg's hiring. Carrillo is the chairman of the WTJX board of directors.

Regarding whether the WTJX board was involved at all in Biggs' hiring, Carrillo said: "Marc Biggs doesn't work there as far as I know."

After learning that Biggs was working at WTJX, Carrillo said he had no comment.

Potter said that the duties of the WTJX facilities coordinator include ensuring that the grounds, the facilities, the vehicles, and the equipment for the building and facilities are maintained and secure at all times; serving as the liaison to the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency; coordinating movements of vehicles; coordinating solicitation of contractors to do repairs on facilities; managing cleaning contracts by making sure the services are properly performed; securing the facility in an emergency; and ensuring the facility is maintained in a safe manner, meeting Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

Biggs is receiving an annual salary of $42,000, according to Potter.

The hiring process

According to Potter, the facilities coordinator position had been advertised and filled previously by someone who did not pass the probation period and was not kept in the job.

Potter said that the position was advertised again and another set of candidates - four of them, including Biggs - applied.

The applications were reviewed to make sure they met the qualifications, there were interviews, and Potter said he felt - "without a doubt" - that Biggs was the best candidate for the job.

Potter said that while Biggs might assist in defining the scope of work on requests for bids and proposals, he will not be selecting who wins contracts.

Potter and the chief operating officer will make those decisions, according to Potter. Biggs would be overseeing the work done by contractors and projects done on site.

"Hiring someone that has been through the system is neither here nor there for us, as long as we don't put them in a position where they would be able to repeat the same activity that they may have been convicted of," Potter said. "In my view, everyone deserves a second chance, especially if they have served the time."

V.I. Personnel Director Kenneth Hermon Jr. said that the only provision in the law about hiring felons to work for the government says that an individual convicted of a crime against a minor child cannot be hired to work in a position where he or she would come into contact with minors.

Potter said that he thinks there "may be" one other convicted felon who works for the V.I. Public Television System. He described that person as a "rank-and-file" employee, not a manager.

Existing position

Potter said that facilities coordinator is not a new position, so there was no problem with hiring someone to fill it, even with the government's financial problems.

"There's no issue with replacing someone in a position someone may have left recently, as long as it is already cleared," he said. "This is not by any means a new position."

The majority of funds for the operation of the V.I. Public Television System come from local taxpayer money, although WTJX also receives donations and raises funds, according to information on its website. It is also eligible for funds from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which is a private corporation created by the federal government.

Potter said that Biggs' political connections had nothing to do with his hiring.

"He applied for a position that was advertised to the public, sent in his application just like everyone else who applied," Potter said. "If he were not qualified, he would not have been selected. He was the best-qualified, and he had additional qualities we think will serve us well in that position."

Those qualities, according to Potter, were Biggs' experience in Property and Procurement.

Conviction and sentence

In February 2008, a jury convicted Biggs and former Department of Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Dean Plaskett of accepting bribes in connection with a $650,000 contract to do several projects in the coastal zone. The contract was awarded to a fake company, Elite Technical Services, created solely for the purpose of payoffs and kickbacks.

Plaskett also was convicted of two counts of obstruction of justice. St. Thomas businessman Leroy Marchena, who was also indicted in the case, was acquitted of all charges against him.

The charges in the case stemmed from what prosecutors alleged was an elaborate kickback scheme.

Between 2000 and 2004, about $1.4 million in government contracts were awarded to several sham companies - most notably Elite Technical Services and companies related to it - in exchange for thousands of dollars in kickbacks to government officials. Most of the companies were unable to perform the work and produced very few results, yet they were paid.

Daily News expose

In January 2005, The Daily News exposed the web of corruption in a special investigative report called "Contracts and Cronies."

In the weeks following the publication of the special report, a massive multipronged investigation into the contract scheme was launched by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Treasury Department's Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of the Inspector General, the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Virgin Islands and the V.I. Inspector General.

A federal grand jury was empaneled in March 2005 to investigate the criminal nature of the scheme.

The two-year federal investigation led to four co-defendants pleading guilty to conspiracy charges related to the scheme, including two former DPNR division directors.

Later, in November 2007, Plaskett, Biggs and Marchena were indicted.

Their February 2008 trial resulted in the convictions for Plaskett and Biggs - although the jury also found the two men not guilty on a number of other charges.

Biggs maintained his innocence when he was sentenced in August 2008 to seven years in prison. Plaskett got a nine-year sentence.

Biggs and Plaskett also were ordered to pay back the money, almost $1.1 million for Plaskett, and more than $960,000 for Biggs.

Biggs still has an outstanding motion in the case to vacate his sentence on several grounds.

Work release program

According to Chris Burke, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Biggs was released on home confinement from the Federal Correctional Institution in Edgefield, S.C., on June 10. The community-based program is aimed at helping prisoners re-enter life on the outside.

"As of right now, he's still considered an inmate in our custody," Burke said.

On home confinement, Biggs would be subject to routine monitoring, surprise onsite visits and typically would not be allowed to leave the residence where he is staying except for certain approved activities, Burke said.

"One of the goals of the program is to help people get back in society," he said. Inmates in the program are required to work or be actively seeking work, Burke said.

Biggs' prison sentence is scheduled to last until Dec. 6, when he will be off home confinement and commence three years of supervised probation, according to Burke.

Plaskett currently is serving his sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution Williamsburg in South Carolina and his release date is June 6, 2016, according to information from the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

- Contact reporter Joy Blackburn at 714-9145 or email jblackburn@dailynews.vi .

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