COURT HEARS TESTIMONY AGAINST GUAM OFFICIAL

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By Theresa Merto Cepeda

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Mar. 2) - Former airport Executive Manager Gerald Yingling used a government-issued credit card to pay for hotel expenses, which should have been covered by a per diem, the airport's assistant controller testified yesterday.

The trial against Yingling was crammed with witness testimony yesterday from a former airport board member and three airport employees before Superior Court of Guam Judge Steven Unpingco.

Joseph Cabana, the airport's assistant controller, briefly testified yesterday how he reviewed several of Yingling's travel documents and found that there was some "duplicate charges."

Cabana, who worked with an independent auditor, said the charges made on a government credit card were for several off-island hotels, but he said the hotel expense should have been covered by the per diem that Yingling received in advance.

The trial is scheduled to resume this morning, with Cabana returning to the stand to continue testifying.

Yingling was indicted on Sept. 15 for fraudulent use of a credit card as a felony and official misconduct as a misdemeanor. The charges stem from allegations that Yingling used a government credit card for more than $12,000 in personal expenses. He has pleaded not guilty.

While the prosecution has accused Yingling of abusing the use of the government credit card, Yingling's attorney has said the charges were business-related and benefited the airport.

The government called its first witness to the stand, Tessie Marcos, a former airport board member, who went over the travel policies. Marcos was appointed to serve as a board member from 1995 to 2002 and, at one point, served as the vice chairwoman.

Citing the policy, Marcos said employees who go on airport-related trips must file travel expenses, and receipts are required for all travel expenses, including all advance perdiem.

The per diem is a flat rate for all meals and lodging. An expense report is to be submitted to the airport authority within 10 calendar days after returning from the trip, Marcos said.

Marcos said Yingling had approval of the board to use the credit card and that the Board of Directors adopted a corporate credit card standard operating procedure.

The credit card, she said, was authorized for airport services and products. If it is used for personal expenses, it could result in reimbursement, interest payment, disciplinary proceedings, or any other appropriate legal action, Marcos said, citing the policy.

She said credit-card bills were sent to the airport authority and paid by the authority.

Yingling's attorney David Lujan asked whether Marcos, in her capacity as a former board member, would entertain and meet with people in the tourism industry to advance the mission of the airport, to which she replied, "Definitely, sir. I strongly agree with that."

Marcos said that like Yingling, airport board members would meet with airline personnel, vendors and tenants of the airport to look for ways to enhance the airport's ability to earn money.

The airport makes money from landing fees, passenger fees and rental of the terminal, she said, adding the airport does not receive funds from the local government and is a self-sustaining entity.

She said as the executive manager, Yingling fulfilled his duties and, through his efforts, brought more money and airlines to the airport, including Philippine Airlines.

"When he came on board, his main goal was to attract more airlines," Marcos said.

In order to do this, Yingling would be required to work with or entertain officials, and the board would authorize such entertainment, she said. She said the per diem for off-island travel was about $150 a day for a hotel room and three meals, and this amount is not expected to cover the cost of having business meetings.

"It's a realization of the board the $150 is insufficient," Lujan said.

"That's correct, sir," Marcos replied.

It was impractical to give Yingling checks to cash in foreign countries, and the airport board had to find a source of payment that is recognized worldwide, such as a credit card, she said. As part of his job, Yingling would have to meet with travel agents, tour operators and airline officials. If Yingling met them for a breakfast meeting, she said, he would pick up the tab and charge it to the credit card.

She said this would be deemed a proper expenditure by the board because it is airport-related.

Rose Wirkkunen, the financial controller for the airport, was the second government witness called to the stand and briefly testified. Her office reviews travel expense reports after travel is completed and, prior to travel, looks over the authorization forms and per diem requests.

She said the board did not request a recommendation from her about the credit-card use. Assistant Attorney General Lewis Littlepage asked her what her recommendation would have been, but Lujan objected to the question and Littlepage withdrew it.

During cross-examination, Wirkkunen was only asked when she was employed at the airport. She said she left the airport on December 22, 1999, and went back to work there on June 26, 2003.

The airport's accounting technician supervisor, Josephine Dela Rosa, said she processes payments to vendors and for the airport's operation expenses. Her office also processes air travel per diem. Dela Rosa said the airport receives and pays the credit-card bills monthly. But she also said when Yingling would go off island; her office would be instructed to clear the credit-card account.

March 3, 2005

Pacific Daily News: www.guampdn.com

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