U.S. AG Urged To Investigate Alleged CNMI Corruption

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Administration says protest ‘political ploy’ before elections

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Oct. 30, 2012) – Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) launched yesterday a public petition urging U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate corruption in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) after similar requests to U.S. Department of Justice (USDOJ) officials in the region, among others, fell on deaf ears. The Fitial administration described the request as "nothing more than a political ploy."

"We do not understand how the U.S. Attorney can sit idly by, when day after day, our news media report on the abuse of office by elected officials in the Northern Marianas," the petition says.

The petition is available at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/594/245/960/demand-federal-action-to-root-out-corruption-in-the-nmi/. It targets 1,000 signatures.

The petition to Holder comes days ahead of the Nov. 6 mid-term elections in the CNMI.

Most of the issues cited were the same allegations reviewed by a Special Committee on Impeachment whose report on a resolution impeaching Gov. Benigno R. Fitial for 16 allegations of corruption, neglect of duty, and felony was shot down by the administration-controlled House leadership.

The panel chairman, Rep. Joe Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan), said the report shows evidence supporting the articles of impeachment.

These include the illegal release of a federal inmate in January 2010 to give the governor a massage in the wee hours of the morning at his private residence, a sole-source $392,406 ARRA management contract to a newly-resigned Cabinet member, and police and other higher-ups' alleged use of their power to shield former attorney general Edward Buckingham from being served summons to face charges of public corruption and Hatch Act violations.

Sablan, in an interview, said he has brought some of these corruption issues to the attention of USDOJ officials in the region and higher levels, to no avail.

"There are other ways of getting the attention of Mr. Holder and a public petition is one of those ways," Sablan told Saipan Tribune.

Other community members also expressed disappointment that U.S. Attorney for Guam and CNMI Alicia Limtiaco's office has not investigated any of the corruption issues brought to their attention.

"Where is Guam's U.S. Attorney Alicia Limtiaco? How can she not open her eyes and see all the federal laws that have been broken here in the CNMI? This is shameful. If this level of corruption were happening on her home island of Guam, I am sure she would be pressured into acting," said concerned citizen Ed Propst, one of the petitioners.

Propst said Limtiaco has a "hands off" approach to two major law violations-the sole-source ARRA contract, of which the Office of the Inspector General put together a report on the blatant violations, and the human rights violations when a federal detainee was released from prison to give the CNMI governor a "midnight massage."

"Can you imagine how fearful she must have been? What a travesty of justice. The CNMI needs its own U.S. Attorney, or Alicia Limtiaco needs to be replaced. I'd be fine with either outcome," Propst added.

Press secretary Angel Demapan said yesterday that "clearly the timing is evidence that this is nothing more than a political ploy by the delegate."

"If he was so concerned about such issues, why didn't he initiate this a long time ago? It's pure nonsense and nothing more than Mr. Kilili's desperate attempt to save whatever chance is left for re-election," Demapan told Saipan Tribune.

Sablan said this is not his first time to raise these issues with USDOJ officials.

Sablan and the governor do not see eye-to-eye on a host of local and federal issues affecting the CNMI. The governor, who chairs the local Republican Party, wants Sablan replaced with his Republican delegate candidate. Sablan is an independent but caucuses with Democrats in Congress.

Demapan said the administration can understand why Sablan "is resorting to desperate measures."

"First, because he's never found himself in one-on-one race. Second, because the good old ARRA days are gone and there's nothing else he can claim as an accomplishment. Third, because opencongress.org reports that he had sponsored only 27 bills in his four years in office, and of the 27, absolutely none of them ever became law. Fourth, this election, he is pitted against a candidate who clearly outdoes him in terms of educational qualifications, quite ironic since he is a delegate who proclaims himself as a champion of education. The people deserve much better than these types of tricky political ploys," Demapan said.

Sablan's bills are usually tacked on as riders in major bills so they would move faster and be signed into law such as the delay in the 50-cent annual minimum wage increase in the CNMI. This is a common practice in Congress.

Corruption issues

The petition says the people of the CNMI expect the full protection of federal law, specifically they expect that the U.S. Department of Justice would take aggressive action against public corruption on the islands.

"But we have been disappointed," the petition says.

The CNMI's former AG has been declared a fugitive of justice. He did not show up in court despite being served a penal summons on criminal charges filed against him by the Office of the Public Auditor. Buckingham left the CNMI in the early morning of Aug. 4, with the help of armed police and ports police officers who helped shield him from being served the penal summons, until the FBI's help was sought and actually served the penal summons right before Buckingham's departure.

The petition also cited Buckingham's alleged violation of the Hatch Act. A U.S. Office of Special Counsel found that Buckingham may have violated the Hatch Act by using government time, personnel, and other resources for political purposes related to a federal election in 2010.

"Federally funded employees of the Northern Marianas government have lost their jobs or been threatened with reprisal for exercising their right to support candidates for public office on their own time and using their own resources," the petition says.

It also says the terms of federal grants regarding staffing are "ignored, further increasing the power of local government officials to create a climate of fear and tighten control over employees' freedom of political expression."

It says requests from the public and from elected officials in the CNMI for action by the U.S. Department of Justice on the islands "to date seem to fall on deaf ears. Perhaps, this is because the Northern Marianas still lacks its own U.S. Attorney, for whom law enforcement in our islands would be the priority, not an afterthought."

"We, the undersigned, therefore petition U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to take positive and public action to assure the U.S. citizens of the Northern Mariana Islands that federal law will be fully enforced in our islands. We demand that he use his authority to investigate thoroughly the all-too-apparent corruption in our local government and bring to justice those who abuse the public trust," it says.

Glen Hunter, a private citizen advocating clean government, said the situation in the CNMI is dire.

"The sitting governor has shown from recent actions that he alone is in complete control over the main offices that should provide unbiased oversight to ensure a free and fair election. Both the Department of Public Safety and the Office of the Attorney General are under his sole control," Hunter said.

He also said the Office of the Public Auditor is the only protective government entity that citizens can rely on; however, it is extremely understaffed and underfunded.

"Recent attempts by the Office of the Public Auditor to begin to restore public trust and enforce the rule of law have come under harsh threat by the governor, DPS, and the OAG. Therefore, an urgent and immediate request for federal intervention is needed to ensure that United States citizens' voter rights are preserved and protected," he said.

Hunter said he is "directly asking the federal government to provide any support in providing oversight and monitoring of our upcoming election on Nov. 6, 2012, in order to ensure that our U.S. citizens are afforded their constitutional right to a free and fair election."

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