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July in the Virgin Islands Zoned in on Epstein, Elected Officials & Ethics

St. Thomas ⎯ July was a news filled month in the U.S. Virgin Islands, one that catapulted the territory into national media. Jeffery Epstein’s indictment by the U.S. Department of Justice began shining a microscope on the territory’s ties with the billionaire financial investor. 

After national news broke that Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett had received over $8,000 dollars from Epstein dating back to her previous campaigns, a number of senators in the 33rd Legislature were also linked to Epstein through campaign donations. 

Senators Donna Frett-Gregory, Alicia Barnes and Athneil “Bobby” Thomas each acknowledged that their campaigns had received donations from the billionaire in the 2018 general election and released statements addressing allegations of sex trafficking and illicit behavior by the sex offender. All four officials pledged to donate an equal amount to local charities that provide programs to people affected by domestic violence and sexual assault and organizations for youth development.

As news outlets in the territory begin to stitch pieces of the puzzle together, online newspapers like the Miami Herald, Bloomberg and the New York Times are circling Epstein’s ties in the Virgin Islands. Both U.S. territories were the center of national news during July, with the scandals of Epstein and Rosselló overshadowing each islands’ disaster recovery efforts.

Initially, Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett said that she would not return the cash she had received in campaign contributions from Epstein — which only amplified the story in national media. Plaskett later reversed course, releasing a statement pledging to instead donate a matching amount to the Women’s Coalition of St. Croix and the Family Resource Center on St. Thomas rather than return it to Epstein. Her office then urged other politicians to do the same.

While each elected official took steps to distance themselves from Epstein’s case and the subsequent fallout, all appeared to have overlooked issues with permitting and legal litigation on the billionaire’s private island related to zoning issues resulting in a number of hefty fines from the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR). Senator Donna Frett-Gregory said in a statement that future campaign donations will have to vetted with even greater scrutiny.

Campaign contributions from Epstein linked to local elected officials are not illegal, however, national news outlets have begun digging up Epstein’s past and zoning in on his relationships in the Virgin Islands and ongoing issues like permitting and fines levied on Epstein’s private island, Little St. James that date back to 2016 and persist in 2019.

Local records show that Epstein went on to purchase Great St. James in January of 2016 for sum of $18 million. Newspapers around the globe are still publishing articles labeling Little St. James as “pedophile island”.

Each official’s affiliation with the billionaire came into question, some ignorant to the extent of his local business ties and their connection to campaign donations from his DNA analysis venture, the Southern Trust Company. Southern Trust also receives a 90 percent tax break under the Virgin Islands Economic Development Commission, which makes it a part of the territory’s economic portfolio.

The New York Times details Epstein’s bizarre business ventures that included cryonics, DNA analysis and strengthening the human gene pool. Epstein’s company Southern Trust once sponsored a science and math fair for school children in the U.S. Virgin Islands in 2014.

In the month of July, the Virgin Islands made national headlines every day after the U.S. Department of Justice charged Jeffery Epstein with sex trafficking and conspiracy. Just fifty miles across the water, Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rosselló resigned after weeks of protests on the island fueled by a politically damaging scandal. With the Caribbean entering two of the most active months of the hurricane season — August and September — local agencies are learning that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has delayed billions of dollars in disaster mitigation aid to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.