St. John Administrator Smith Suspended Without Pay for Writing To Judge Gomez

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After being chastised by District Court Judge Curtis Gomez, St. John Administrator Leona Smith was suspended without pay by Governor John deJongh.

Smith wrote a letter to Gomez on Government House stationary asking for leniency for convicted bank robber Shevaun Browne.

Brown was convicted along with Kadeem Thomas and Keven Fessale of the January 2011 armed robbery of Merchant’s Commercial Bank in Estate Chocolate Hole. Browne was described as the ringleader of the operation, who conceived of the plan and drove the get-away care, according to written reports.

During a sentencing hearing on August 6, Gomez made a point to address the letter from Smith as well as a letter written by V.I. Port Authority Chief Wharfinger Elrod Hendricks on behalf of Thomas.

“I really wonder if it is the position of the Virgin Islands government to essentially take a side when a jury of your peers found that you committed a very horrific crime,” Gomez was quoted in a report in the Virgin Islands Daily News.

Gomez sentenced Browne to 13 years and nine months in jail, Thomas to 12 years and Fessale, who agreed to a plea deal and testified against the other two defendants, to two years in prison.

Last week, Smith began a month-long suspension from her position without pay.

“The governor has suspended Administrator Leona Smith for 30 days without pay effective Monday, August 27,” said Government House spokesperson Jean Greaux. “The suspension was a result of her writing a letter advocating a federal judge show leniency to a convicted bank robber. Smith’s appeal to the District Court, written on Government House letterhead, raised questions of propriety from a federal judge.”

“The letter gave the false public impression that it had the imprimatur of the administration,” said Greaux.