U.S. Virgin Islands in hot water over bad checks to National Guard

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After initial non-payment to National Guard members who were deployed in hurricane recovery operations, the U.S. Virgin Islands issued bad paychecks to service members, even as they were exposed for using FEMA money to pay a DC lobbying firm, along with partnering with the Clinton Foundation.

An internal memo obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation instructed soldiers who received bad paychecks to “return the check to their unit with documentation from the financial institution stating the check did not clear, documentation showing any assessed fees, and the financial institution’s contact information.”

A National Guard sergeant who served during the hurricane recovery effort in St. Croix, and wishes to remain anonymous, said he heard from more than 20 soldiers who were issued bad checks. The soldiers initially received no payment from early September, when they were placed on territorial active duty, until January, when they began to receive “payment” in the form of bad checks.

According to the sergeant, being placed on territorial active duty imposed a substantial toll on National Guard members since they cannot report to their normal jobs during their assignments. For months, soldiers were not receiving payment owed to them by the National Guard. When checks were finally issued, many of them bounced. The unnamed sergeant also claimed that the paycheck he received was less than half of the amount owed to him by the National Guard.

National Guard members were reportedly given no explanation regarding the bad checks and instructed to file a hardship discharge if they could not make ends meet by utilizing their savings.

“It’s a disrespect to the service that these guys performed to the territory because, as a National Guard soldier, you’re leaving your job with the expectation to be compensated,” the sergeant said. “You’re not getting paid, you’re working 18-plus hours. You have to go home to your family with no paycheck, it’s a bad deal. Soldiers were forced to come in prior to the hurricanes. They left their wives, their families the night before the storm to come sleep in the armory where they’d be no use to the community.”

The sergeant said that he and members of his unit “could not go and clear the debris off our own property. I still have debris on my own property because the opportunity to do that while other soldiers could have helped has passed.”

The lack of payment for their service eventually led to the breakdown of the chain of command in the National Guard.

“Soldiers started disobeying orders because ‘You’re not going to pay me and you’re trying to enforce these rules?’ So soldiers basically started doing their own thing and going home to their families, which I can’t blame them for,” the sergeant said. “The next natural disaster that happens, soldiers might not even show up because of what they’re going through here.”

The Virgin Islands have struggled financially in the wake of the 2017 hurricane season, despite being issued an $85 million federal loan for disaster recovery efforts. Another $211 million was slated for the territory, but the funds were halted because the agency responsible for disbursing the money, the Public Finance Authority, failed to meet its obligations under the loan agreement.

Despite their financial hardship, the PFA recently awarded $100 million in no-bid contracts, including one for approximately $35 million to Ernst & Young for accounting services, and another for $235,000 which went to a Washington, D.C., lobbying firm that employs former House Speaker John Boehner. Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp, an Independent, said the lobbying expense is justified because the Virgin Islands must compete for resources and attention on Capitol Hill.

In February, the government debt of the Virgin Islands was downgraded by the credit rating agency Moody’s, which also claimed that it was “highly likely” that the territory will be unable to meet its obligations. The agency also predicted that the territory’s pension system is likely to collapse “much sooner” than 2023.

The Daily Caller also noted:

Mapp’s administration also recently announced they are partnering with the Clinton Foundation in disaster recovery efforts. When asked if he had concerns about the Clinton Foundation’s documented history of questionable accounting practices, Mapp said ‘no,’ insisting the foundation would not be involved in the allocation of any federal funds.

“They’re not handling funds for us. The Clinton Foundation has done a lot of good,” he said.

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