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Concern raised over legitimacy of fundraising effort

By Haidee V. Eugenio SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Feb. 1, 2011) - The Tinian Municipal Council may reconsider its endorsement of SMDC & Associates' ongoing online solicitation and planned building of a 1,700-foot peace memorial tower on Tinian, which the charitable organization says will go toward helping underserved children worldwide.

Council chairman Patrick A. Manglona said yesterday he wanted to make it clear that he, as chairman of the Tinian Municipal Council, did not and will not sign off on a memorandum endorsing SMDC & Associates' online solicitation for donations of up to US$1 million or more without the approval of all the members and without consultation with the whole Tinian leadership.

"I'm against it. I'm disappointed that a memo was signed on behalf of the council. It's a billion-dollar industry that we don't know fully well," he told Saipan Tribune in a phone interview yesterday.

Joseph SN. Cruz, council secretary, was the one who signed off on a Nov. 8, 2010, memo stating that SMDC & Associates, a commercial fundraiser for charity company, is "held under the auspices" of the Tinian Municipal Council.

The memo is written on the council's official stationery.

Cruz was the acting chairman when he signed the memo, a copy of which is posted on SMDC & Associates' website, www.yourhappylife.org. He could not be reached for comment.

Manglona said he will bring up this matter in today's Tinian leadership meeting with members of the Tinian Casino Gaming Control Commission.

The Tinian leadership consists of the Tinian Municipal Council, the Tinian Legislative Delegation, and the Office of the Tinian Mayor.

Manglona said in early November 2010, SMDC & Associates approached him as council chairman to support the online solicitation and plan to build a tower on Tinian.

He said he was approached at his residence, when he was having dinner with his family and on the eve of his off-island trip.

"I have yet to talk to the full council and the full leadership. I wanted to know why the secretary of the council signed it. I don't know if the vice chairman was also off-island that's why the secretary was the one who signed a memo," Manglona said.

The council's memo also dragged the Office of the Attorney General's name by stating that SMDC & Associates "shall provide an annual financial report to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) and a quarterly report to the Tinian Municipal Council."

Attorney General Ed Buckingham had said "if anyone makes a claim that they want your donation to ’Your Happy Life’ because it is endorsed by the Office of the Attorney General, the claim is untrue."

He urged the public to contact the Office of the Attorney General if they encounter suspicious claims.

The public may report the information by phone 670-664-2341 or fax 670-664-2349, or by contacting Meredith Callan at the OAG.

Two other elected officials alleged that the online solicitation is a scam that needs to be investigated by local and federal agencies. One of them was asked to donate $1,000 but refused to do so because of the questionable nature of the project.

SMDC & Associates has been soliciting online donations of up to $1 million or more purportedly to fund scholarship programs for "underserved and disadvantaged children" worldwide.

It also plans to build a 1,700-foot peace memorial tower on Tinian to continue generating revenue for these children and promote peace. The tower, the website says, will have a revolving restaurant at the top. It also says donors will be offered free hotel rooms, free food and free skydiving from the top of the tower, which will have a convention hall.

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