FORMER CNMI CONGRESSMAN INDICTED

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By John Ravelo

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Mar. 12) - The Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Attorney General's Office yesterday filed 62 criminal charges against ex-congressman Stanley Torres and two former legislative staff workers for alleged involvement in a ghost employee scheme.

The alleged beneficiary of the scheme is Dorothy Sablan, who used to be Torres' office manager. The 29-page criminal information alleged that Sablan received at least five checks totaling $5,384.67 in government payroll in 2003.

The AGO also named former legislative staff Frank S. Ada as defendant in the case. Ada allegedly prepared fraudulent time and attendance sheets indicating that Sablan rendered work when she was off-island. The former congressman faces 20 criminal counts; Sablan, 30 counts; and Ada, 12 counts.

The case stemmed from an investigation jointly conducted by the Office of the Public Auditor and the AG's Investigative Unit, following the creation of an anti-public corruption division within the AGO.

Deputy Attorney General Clyde Lemons Jr., who heads the AGO's anti-corruption arm, and CNMI chief prosecutor David Hutton filed the criminal charges at the Superior Court yesterday.

Torres is facing five counts each of misconduct in public office, conspiracy to commit theft, conspiracy to commit theft by deception and illegal use of public supplies, services, time and personnel.

The AGO lodged five counts each of the last three offenses against Sablan. Additionally, the prosecutors filed five counts each of theft, theft by deception and receiving stolen property against her.

Ada faces four counts each of conspiracy to commit theft and conspiracy to commit theft by deception, and illegal use of public supplies, services, time and personnel.

Lemons and Hutton accused Torres and the two legislative staff of "condoning and facilitating the receipt of money by an employee [Sablan] who was in fact not performing any function that would entitle her to wages to be paid from the coffers of the Commonwealth treasury."

Sablan allegedly received the first government check numbered 410066 in the amount of $461.54, between June 15 and 28. She allegedly received government check no. 412493 in the amount of $1,384.63 between June 29 and July 12; check nos. 414911 and 417358 both amounting to $1,538.48, between July 13 and 26 and July 27 and Aug. 9, respectively; and check no. 427140 in the amount of $461.54, between Sept. 7 and 20.

OPA criminal investigator Richard Lamkin earlier accused Torres of employing Sablan as a ghost employee, who allegedly received CNMI paychecks via direct deposit to the Bank of Guam and the First Hawaiian Bank.

"Investigation reveals that Dorothy Sablan has been paid for at least 280 hours of work recorded as if she was on-island even though she was off-island without being on administrative, annual or sick leave time," Lamkin said, adding that Sablan had also unlawfully received government monies pertaining to 16 hours of holiday pay.

Investigation cited by Lamkin showed that Sablan applied for a refund of her retirement contributions on March 4, 2003. She resigned from her post as Torres' office manager three days later. On March 19, Torres rehired her to work under the same position until Sept. 30. The Retirement Fund had approved and prepared a retirement refund check for Sablan on March 28 in the amount of $8,418.03.

More than two months after her husband left the CNMI, Sablan left the islands with her three children via Northwest Airlines flight NW075 in the afternoon of June 24. She reportedly flew to Seattle, Washington.

"At this time, Dorothy Sablan had accumulated approximately 131 hours of annual leave time and 293 hours of sick leave time," Lamkin said. "[She] did not return to the CNMI until Wednesday, Sept. 10,2003."

Lamkin said the probe stemmed from an anonymous telephone call made to the OPA last August 20, just days after the sentencing of former senator Ricardo S. Atalig to 63 months in prison for involvement in a ghost employee scheme.

Lamkin said the caller tipped that Sablan was receiving full-time pay as if she was working in the CNMI, even if she had spent the previous two months in Seattle.

Besides Atalig, former CNMI Sen. Jose M. Dela Cruz is also in federal incarceration for his involvement in the fraudulent scheme involving the hiring of ghost employees.

Lamkin's investigation, submitted in the form of an affidavit to the Superior Court, became the basis for the issuance of a search warrant on Torres' offices last December. OPA and AGIU operatives raided Torres' offices at the Legislature last Dec. 11 to the congressman's surprise.

Torres then accused AG Pamela Brown of instigating the raid on his offices, branding the actions as harassment. Torres had vehemently opposed Brown's confirmation, which sailed through the Senate days before the raid happened.

Brown denied having any hand in the raid. Hutton, in defense of Brown, said the investigators received the tip about Torres even before the AG assumed the post.

March 12, 2004

Saipan Tribune: www.saipantribune.com

 

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