Altered COVID-19 Tests Put Superior Court Judge At Odds With Prosecutors In Cases
CHARLOTTE AMALIE — Three more U.S. Virgin Islands tourists have been arrested and charged with submitting altered COVID-19 tests to the territory’s online travel portal, but a Superior Court judge said it appears that two of the travelers may have been scammed by the people who administered their test.
The first defendant, Kayla Evemarie Renee Miller, 20, of Roseville, Michigan, was charged with making fraudulent claims upon the government, accessing a computer for fraudulent purposes, use of false information, and filing or recording forged instruments, the Virgin Islands Police Department said today.
Miller’s COVID-19 test result was flagged as possibly fraudulent “due to concerns that the collection date fonts were different in size than the others in the document, and that the general formatting of the document seems off,” according to a sworn affidavit submitted by Virgin Islands Police.
She was not cleared to travel to the territory but she flew to St. Thomas anyway, and was arrested. Unable to post $5,500 bail, Miller was jailed and appeared in court via video conference for an advice-of-rights hearing on Wednesday.
Superior Court Magistrate Judge Henry Carr III said he did not want to keep the young woman jailed, or make her remain on St. Thomas alone while she awaits trial, so he allowed her to post $500 cash and return home to her family in Michigan.
Carr then dealt with a Colorado couple who are unrelated to the first defendant — Douglas and Patricia Miller — who had traveled to St. Thomas on Tuesday after their test results “were flagged due to concerns that patient information and collection date vary from what they typically receive from the lab, and that the ‘Not Detected’ does not match the surrounding font, which it typically does,” police said in court documents. The testing company, LabCorp, confirmed they had no record of the Millers’ tests.
The affidavit submitted for Douglas Miller’s arrest noted that Director of Environmental Health Wanson Harris contacted the facility where the Millers said they’d gotten tested, and spoke with a woman who said she had conducted their tests. But when informed that LabCorp had verified the tests submitted by the Millers were fraudulent, the woman “then asked if she could correct the test by emailing another test,” court records indicate.
Harris asked “if the first test is valid as she stated why would she need to submit another test,” and the woman refused to answer further questions and hung up, according to the affidavit. The same number called back a short time later, and Harris said he spoke to another woman who said she could verify the Miller’s tests were valid, but also hung up after refusing to answer questions.
Carr said the whole situation struck him as odd, and he said it appears the Millers may have been the victims of a scam testing service.
“I’m a seasoned defense lawyer, and when I get a feeling like this, I need to respect my feelings,” Carr said. “What I have before me, it raises the hairs on the back of my neck.”
Territorial Public Defender Frederick Johnson said the couple were on vacation to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary, and were hoping to “salvage” the trip despite having spent their first night in jail after they were unable to post $5,500 each.
Assistant Attorney General Brenda Scales asked for an opportunity to provide the court with additional evidence before Carr rules on whether or not there is sufficient probable cause to sustain the charges.
Carr agreed to give the government more time, but said he would release the couple on their own personal recognizance, and ordered them to appear in court via Zoom on Friday.
“If you haven’t filed some supplemental information by Friday, I’m dismissing these cases,” Carr told Scales.