Former CNMI Governor Faces Additional Corruption Charges

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Fitial’s next court appearance to be in early July

By Andrew O. De Guzman

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, June 20, 2014) – The Office of the Public Auditor included three more counts against former Gov. Benigno R. Fitial relating to the controversial $190 million no-bid power purchase agreement.

OPA legal counsel George L. Hasselback submitted to Superior Court a first amended information against the former governor including offenses of misconduct in office, attempted violation of the Commonwealth Utilities Acts of 2008, and violation of the same 2008 CUC law.

Fitial signed off on the contract on Aug. 3, 2012 with Saipan Development LLC. He is now facing a total of 13 charges.

Fitial previously denied the offenses of solicitation of escape, two counts of misconduct in office, and conspiracy to commit escape when a female detainee who happened to be Fitial’s masseuse was spirited out of the Department of Corrections so she could massage the then-governor that early morning of Jan. 8, 2010; use of public position to obtain benefits for business or social acquaintances, and misconduct in office regarding the sole-source ARRA federal contract that occurred on Oct. 20, 2010; and two counts of misconduct in office, conspiracy to commit theft of services, and theft of services on Aug. 3-4, 2012 when top CNMI law enforcement officials provided "escort services" for then-Attorney General Edward Buckingham in order to avoid being served with a penal summons and OPA complaint.

In the amended first information, Hasselback said Fitial, as the governor of the CNMI, had a duty to abide by and enforce the laws and regulations of the CNMI, particularly those that pertained to the execution of contracts on behalf of the CNMI. In particular, Fitial "had a duty to only enter into contracts on behalf of the CNMI that comported with CNMI law and regulations. Despite this duty, [Fitial] contracted on behalf of the CNMI via a contract that he knew, or should have known, violated CNMI law and/or regulations."

Hasselback said Fitial "planned, organized, and fully participated in the formation of a contract that would have significantly encumbered the monies, property and/or assets of the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. in direct violation of CNMI law and/or regulations."

Hasselback said Fitial "purported to encumber the monies, property and/or other assets of the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. via a contract that he knew, or should have known, violated both CNMI law and/or regulation."

In March 2014 regarding the separate civil action against the $190 million PPA, Superior Court Judge David A. Wiseman denied Fitial’s motion to dismiss himself individually from a taxpayers’ lawsuit that challenged a no-bid $190 million power purchase agreement which the former CNMI chief executive signed with Saipan Development LLC.

"Fitial’s conduct was unreasonable," said Wiseman in his 13-page order.

Wiseman said Fitial was not entitled to qualified immunity in the case.

On Feb. 4, 2014, Judge Wiseman declared void from the beginning the $190 million power deal between Fitial and the Saipan Development LLC, saying the power plant development and management agreement was "improper and facially invalid."

Judge Teresa Kim-Tenorio has recused herself from adjudicating the criminal case against Fitial.

The criminal case against Fitial was assigned to Judge Wiseman.

A case management conference has been scheduled either for July 8 or 9, 2014.

After his arraignment on April 30, 2014, and his denial of the criminal charges filed by OPA against him, Fitial through defense attorney Stephen Nutting submitted a travel itinerary that includes more medical treatment in the Philippines and attending the graduation of his son in California.

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