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OPA investigating Yutu overtime pay

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THE legal counsel and the director of investigations for the Office of the Public Auditor said in an interview on Monday that OPA received an opinion in January from the attorney general on overtime pay for the Super Typhoon Yutu disaster.

“The Office of the Public Auditor has a duty to detect fraud, waste, and abuse of government funds, and we cover the Government Ethics Act,” Ashley Kost said. “We take our job very seriously, so any corruption that falls under that, we obviously take it seriously and look into it.”

But Kost said ongoing audits cannot be discussed. Once the audit is complete, she said, it will be released and made available to the public.

“In regards to our investigations, [determining which cases are higher priority] would just depend on the impact of what’s happening, how large it is, [and] also, how egregious it is. Large amounts of money are always concerning,” she said.

Due to the government shutdown in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, OPA operations have slowed down, Kost said, adding that the office only has 17 employees, including five investigators.

She said OPA acts on tips and filters, which are within its purview. Anything that does not pertain to fraud, waste, abuse of government funds, or the Government Ethics Act is referred to the appropriate department or agency.

She added that tips that are relevant to the duties and responsibilities of OPA are then reviewed to determine whether the agency has enough information to open a case and whether it has enough resources to look into the tip.

“After that, when it is a case, then we go through the normal investigative process, taking whatever steps are necessary for the investigation,” Kost said. “At the end of the case, we either look at whether it should be closed because there wasn’t enough information, whether it could be handled administratively — that often happens when you’re working with the government, or whether it should be handled criminally. At that point, we refer it over to the Attorney General’s Office for prosecution. If there’s a federal nexus, we’ll refer it over to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”

Kost encourages members of the public to submit any pertinent tips that they may have by filling out an online form on the OPA website at www.cnmiopa.com

She said persons providing tips can remain anonymous, adding that as soon as the form is filled out, the office is immediately alerted and receives the tip in its case management system.

“We cannot do our jobs unless we receive tips from the public, so keep them coming. We are here for you. If you want to talk, you can also come up and talk to us face-to-face. You can come up here [to the office] and we will meet with you. I really believe that the Office of the Public Auditor is here to serve the public. That is why we are here, and we are doing our best,” Kost said.

 

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