CHARLOTTE AMALIE — A top-ranking WAPA official who had a 33 percent interest in a wireless company that he awarded a $1.2 million contract to has been arrested on local conflict of interest charges, authorities said.
Niel Vanterpool was arrested by the Virgin Islands Department of Justice (VIDOJ) today for criminal conflict of interest violations after he gave a $1.2 million Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (WAPA) contract to a company he owns one-third of, V.I. Attorney General Denise George said.
VIDOJ special agents arrested Vanterpool, WAPA’s Director of Transmission and Distribution, on a warrant signed by a V.I. Superior Court Magistrate on St. Thomas today.
The Office of the Attorney General also filed in the V.I. Superior Court a criminal Information charging Vanterpool with two counts of Conflict of Interest- Prohibited Acts, each of which is a felony carrying punishment from one to five years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $500 or the amount of financial gain derived from the violation, whichever is greater.
A complaint filed with the Attorney General’s Office by a member of WAPA prompted the VIDOJ investigation into the award of the WAPA Field Area Network (FAN) Wireless Communication System contract to ABB, Inc. (ABB), with Surge Communications, LLC as its subcontractor.
The investigation revealed that Vanterpool has a 33 percent interest in Surge Communications, LLC, and was on the WAPA selection committee that selected ABB to perform the WAPA FAN project, negotiated the FAN contract with ABB, served as the WAPA project manager on the WAPA FAN project and approved ABB’s invoices causing payments to be made to ABB in excess of $1.2 million dollars.
An internal WAPA audit found conflicts of interest in the award, selection, and administration of the contract by Vanterpool.
According to an affidavit by a VIDOJ special agent in support of the arrest warrant, Vanterpool knowingly, willingly, and intentionally took advantage of his WAPA position to manipulate circumstances that allowed Surge Communications, LLC to be the subcontractor for ABB, therefore receiving an indirect financial benefit on the WAPA FAN project.
Virgin Islands criminal conflict of interest laws specifically prohibit a public officer or employee from having a financial interest in “any contract made or negotiated by him in his official capacity, or by any public agency of which he is a member.”
“Conflict of Interest by public employees and officials, particularly in the bidding and procurement of government contracts should not be tolerated. It is a form of public corruption that severely undermines the integrity and fairness of government contract awards and competitive negotiations and further compromises the proper management of public projects. The investigation into this matter continues,” AG George said.
AG George cautions the public that any person charged with a crime in the Virgin Islands is considered to be innocent until convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction.