CHARLOTTE AMALIE — You know what they say — when it comes to getting ahead in life — it is not what you know …. but who you know — especially in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
A government contract between the Attorney General’s daughter and the Tourism Department has raised questions of nepotism and conflict of interest in the “transparent” Bryan-Roach Administration that consistently does not respond to reporters’ requests for information — especially when the subject matter is embarrassing to them.
Nepotism is not illegal. But some conflicts of interest are — even in the mostly-lawless U.S. Virgin Islands.
Virgin Islands Attorney General Denise George told the Virgin Islands Daily News on Monday that it is not a conflict of interest for her daughter to have a one-year, $70,000 contract with the Virgin Islands Tourism Department, that also includes $15,000 for travel expenses.
“The contract is a standard government tourism remote sales contract that is lawful and ethical in every regard. The contract is with Tourism and was negotiated with Tourism, not the DOJ,” Attorney General George said. “I did not have any involvement or discussions at all in the negotiations of the contract with Tourism, as my daughter is an adult who manages her own business affairs. The contract was, as it should be, negotiated with Tourism, submitted from P&P to DOJ in the ordinary course as all other contracts for legal sufficiency review, with all supporting documents required for approval.”
George’s daughter, Kmisha Victoria Counts, is now a resident of Los Angeles and will primarily service the midwest region of the mainland, according to Boschulte.
The V.I. Consortium, who first reported the story, said that Counts has been completely unavailable to her supervisor since the contract began in June 2020 — at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Boschulte countered that information by stating that Counts files “monthly reports” with his department.
The tourism commissioner said that Counts was offered a no-bid contract because she has a “great personality, is young and energetic.”
“Tourism is a people business; one of the most important traits is your personality and whether you like people and you could sell the territory to prospective visitors,” Boschulte said, adding that Counts also went through a standard orientation process with his department.
According to the Property and Procurement website, Counts was hired to “Represent the USVI as a tourism destination” for target markets in the continental United States — which Boschulte said was the midwest.
The contract began on June 1 and the government has the option to renew the one-year agreement.
Assistant Virgin Islands Attorney General Carol McDonald also signed off on the agreement.
“The law requires that all government contracts be reviewed and approved for legal sufficiency by my office. I made certain that I had absolutely no involvement,” George said.
“To avoid ethical conflicts, as Attorney General, I recuse myself completely from any case, contract or other matter under scrutiny in my office that I know of involving any close family member,” George said. “As it pertains to contracts, V.I. conflict of interest laws prohibit a public official from ‘being financially interested in any contract made or negotiated by him in his official capacity, or by any public agency of which he is a member.’ The contract itself complied with V.I. law
That document makes reference to the “Scope of Services” in Addendum I, which is not attached to the public record on the Property and Procurement website. Addendum II, “Compensation,” is also not provided.
It does state that travel expenses must be approved by Tourism Commissioner Joseph Boschulte, who signed off on the contract.
The Daily News said it has submitted a public records request to Assistant Tourism Commissioner Alani Henneman-Todman, Government House Communications Director Richard Motta Jr., and Property and Procurement Commissioner Anthony Thomas. All three public servants have failed to provide the requested documents.
Governor Albert Bryan has denied any prior knowledge of the contract. Boschulte said he knew Counts was George’s daughter when he hired her. Thomas said he did not know that Counts was George’s daughter when he signed off on the contract to make it an executed, payable government document.
George said her daughter partnered with Tourism “for over 15 years before and after receiving her college degree from Berklee College of Music.” She also attended the Caribbean Tourism Organization Youth Conference in Aruba, produced and hosted five episodes promoting the Virgin Islands on Tempo Networks, and was a finalist in the Miss World competition in China.
George added that her daughter’s “long-standing relationship with Tourism predates my position as attorney general, and spans administrations. In 2017, when I was not the AG nor with DOJ, she was in the process of negotiating a similar remote sales/marketing contract with the Division of Tourism when the hurricanes hit, and all of the remote tourism sales and marketing efforts were tabled,” according to the statement.
Instead, the contract was issued during a pandemic when the Virgin Islands was ratcheting down on unnecessary travel and issuing restrictions on leisure activities and nationwide travelers were staying home. On June 1, 2019, only 626,000 Americans passed through TSA checkpoints at airports, a year earlier pre-pandemic, that number was 2.5 million.
“It would be unreasonable to expect her to end a long-standing relationship with the Division of Tourism just because her mother became the attorney general,” her mother George said. “Makes no sense. We should be encouraging our young college-educated and qualified Virgin Islanders to work with our government to promote our islands abroad instead of trying to place false barriers to discredit, shame or deny them opportunities merely because their parent happens to be a government official.”