Former VROM head faces jail time

PHILIPSBURG--Although it was not allowed as evidence Wednesday in the trial of former Department of Environmental Development and Property Management VROM head Delano Richardson, the government accountants bureau SOAB final report on the issuance of building permits constantly “hovered” over this case dealing with the alleged criminal behaviour of a former department head.

Richardson’s attorney Remco Stomp had asked the Court to include a copy of the SOAB report to the case file, but Judge Monique Keppels turned this request down, stating that the general atmosphere at VROM was of no importance to his case.

The Prosecutor’s Office is accusing Richardson of having asked a developer for a bribe in exchange for a building permit in November 2008. Richardson allegedly told the developer it was in his power to block issuance of the permit, but he could speed up the process in exchange for money.

According to Richardson, the issuance of the permit had no longer been in his hands. He said he had already signed off the permit on October 10, 2008, which meant that at that time in question the permit had been on the desk of the Sector Head to be sent to the Executive Council for approval.

Richardson was fired on December 18, 2008, after Cupecoy Development NV Managing Director Luis Gioia’s lawyer submitted a letter and a tape recording to the Island Government as evidence of Richardson asking the developer for a payoff for the so-called second phase permit for the Blue Mall project in Cupecoy.

Prosecutor Manon Ridderbeks considered Richardson guilty and asked the Court to impose a prison sentence of 12 months, four of which to be suspended, and a five year ban from the civil service.

The Civil Servants Court had also found during a separate court case held in July that there was sufficient proof that Richardson had asked for money in exchange for a positive decision on a building permit for Blue Mall. That court had found it proven that it had been arranged that the former VROM head would receive between US $200,000 and $220,000 for the permit.

Just as he had told the Civil Servants Court earlier, Richardson maintained his position Wednesday that his taped discussions with Gioia had not been about Blue Mall, but about payment for architectural designs and drawings he was to have made for a future “landmark project” in Simpson Bay.

According to Richardson, the taping actually had been a set-up between Gioia and his “friends” among high-ranking government officials who had tried to frame Richardson because he had been outspoken about “irregularities with the issuance of building permits.”

Richardson admitted that his taped discussions with Gioia concerning the processing of a building permit had been about Blue Mall. However, he said he had been speaking about the general state of affairs concerning Gioia’s permit request within the office, and not about his specific role.

He further stated that the conversation about money had not been about Blue Mall, but about his fee for the future landmark project.

“My client is being accused of the fact that he wanted to take a couple of goodies from the candy store,” attorney Remco Stomp said of Richardson. Prosecutor Manon Ridderbeks had indeed pointed to the fact that Richardson, who as a newcomer at the department had sounded the alarm about irregularities in his department, had “apparently yielded to the temptation and decided to take a grab himself.”

Ridderbeks said that as VROM’s head it had been Richardson’s task to assess requests for building permits and to submit advices to the Executive Council. According to the Prosecutor, Richardson wanted to convince Gioia of the fact that he could influence this decision-making process in exchange for a percentage of the $100 million to $150 million project.

The Prosecutor stated that the evidence against Richardson was “an inch thick” and that he was “disqualifying himself as a reliable civil servant. He is showing no sign of remorse at all.”

Stomp said his client, who is raising five children between 3 and 13 years old, was currently trying to make a living by selling soup on the streets. He tried to convince the judge that his client had already been punished enough. “His name is down the drain. My client doesn’t have a future on this island anymore,” said Stomp.

The judge will give her decision on Wednesday, December 16.

(Source: The Daily Herald / Amigoe)

3 December, 2009

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