IPI to terminate central office lease

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IMPERIAL Pacific International will terminate the existing lease of its central offices as part of cost-cutting measures, attorney Kelley Butcher said in a declaration filed in federal court on Tuesday.

Butcher represents IPI in the lawsuit filed by seven workers alleging forced labor, among other things.

She said the Covid-19 situation has severely affected IPI business operations and its ability to produce “responsive discovery on a predictable schedule.”

“The casino has been shut down and employees RIF-ed or laid off,” said Butcher. “As a cost-cutting measure IPI has been forced to give notice to its landlord at the central office (the place where the discovery materials have been stored and were being processed) that it must terminate its lease effective April 1, 2020.”

IPI offices are located at the Marina Heights Building II in Puerto Rico.

The plaintiffs — Tianming Wang, Dong Han, Yongjun Meng, Liangcai Sun, Youli Wang, Qingchun Xu, and Duxin Yan — said they were victims of a forced labor and human trafficking scheme while employed by the contractor and subcontractor of IPI.

The workers named as defendants IPI and its former contractor and subcontractor MCC International Saipan Ltd. Co. and Gold Mantis Construction Decoration (CNMI).

Their lawyers, Aaron Halegua and Bruce Berline, have asked the federal court to issue an order directing IPI to produce records they requested.

In a recent motion, the seven workers asked the court to sanction IPI for failing to produce discovery despite a court order.

Imperial Pacific International’s casino-hotel, which is still under construction, is seen on Beach Road in Garapan, Tuesday.  Photo by Bryan Manabat

IPI opposes the request for sanctions.

According to Butcher, she agreed to the stipulated discovery scheduling order, believing in good faith that IPI and she could comply.

“IPI and I dedicated considerable resources and time to attempting to comply with the terms of the resulting order,” Butcher said.

IPI is a company that is only a few years old with virtually no experience with the significant issues involved with electronic discovery, she added.

“I have no prior experience with large scale electronic discovery projects. As far as I can tell there has never been a case litigated in the CNMI that involves anywhere near the scale, scope, and significant issues involved with the e-discovery aspects of this case,” she said.

Butcher said she has realized that IPI cannot comply with the discovery order.

“While IPI has missed some discovery deadlines, its doing so was not due to willfulness, bad faith or the fault of IPI,” she added.

“I realized that the significant steps involved with gathering responsive discovery, the unique issues we faced regarding the manner in which data was stored (e.g., IPI did not store employee computer data on a central server or pay for employee used cellular phones or accounts), the high amount of employee turnover, [the fact] that IPI was deprived of access to much of the responsive data and other materials because of the raids conducted by the United States government in November 2019, and the sheer amount and varied types of data involved — [I now realize that] many deadlines imposed by that order were impossible for IPI to comply with.”

Butcher also told the court that she is currently in California for her mother’s health care.

IPI has also hired Sean E. Frink and Catherine J. Cachero, of the Marianas Legal Strategy Group LLC to represent the casino investor in the litigation.

IPI denies all the allegations of the seven workers and stated that the plaintiffs voluntarily and knowingly and illegally entered the CNMI to work.

The jury trial is scheduled for Feb. 2, 2021 at 10 a.m.

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