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Special committee subpoenas Finance, sends letters to other agencies

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THE House Special Committee on Fiscal Review of Executive Expenditures on Thursday unanimously voted to issue a subpoena to the Department of Finance for the remaining records that it has yet to provide in relation to executive expenditures.

Finance was given a five-day grace period to comply with the  subpoena.

The special committee specifically wants Finance to undo the redaction of credit card numbers and bank statements.

Should Finance refuse to provide the requested information, it must provide justification for its refusal, and the special committee will determine whether or not the justification is proper.

If proper justification is provided, the special committee will let the matter go.

However, if the justification is improper, legal action will be taken in which the department will be held in contempt and the matter will either go through the Office of the Attorney General or directly to the court.

Voting in favor of the subpoena were the committee chairman, Ralph N. Yumul, Vice Speaker Lorenzo Deleon Guerrero, House Floor Leader John Paul Sablan, House Minority Leader Edwin Propst,  Reps. Donald Manglona, Tina Sablan, and Edmund Villagomez.

Rep. Luis John Castro was absent during the vote.

 

The House Special Committee on Fiscal Review of Executive Expenditures meets in the House chamber on Thursday. Photo by K-Andrea Evarose S. Limol

On Tuesday, all eight members of the special committee voted to send letters requesting documents from the following:

  • Northern Islands Mayor Vicente Santos.
  • Marianas Visitors Authority Managing Director Priscilla Iakopo.
  • Commonwealth Casino Commission Chairman Edward Deleon Guerrero.
  • Bureau of Motor Vehicles Director Juana Leon Guerrero.
  • Homeland Security and Emergency Management Special Assistant Gerald Deleon Guerrero.
  • Department of Public Safety Commissioner Robert Guerrero.
  • Department of Lands and Natural Resources Secretary Anthony Benavente.

They are requested to turn in documents related to executive expenditures such as the community benefit fund and the promotional trip to the Northern Islands.

They were given until 5 p.m. on Aug. 4 to submit requested documents. If found in non-compliance of this deadline, a subpoena will be issued as early as Aug. 5.

If there is a need for waivers for an extension of the deadline, a request can be made to the special committee for an extension. The committee will then determine whether to approve or deny the request.

BMV has submitted some documents, but the special committee said it is also  requesting other documents relating to a replacement car battery that was purchased in cash and reimbursed to the governor for the amount of $122.10.

The  battery was for a 2004 Mazda van purchased and initially registered under the governor’s name, but has since then undergone multiple transfers of ownership, the special committee said.

Certain documents regarding the bills of sale and the transfer of ownership have yet to be produced to the special committee, it added.

It was agreed that the current and past owners of the vehicle could be called in as potential witnesses.

Members of the House minority bloc presented what they describe as “questionable” executive expenditures and reimbursements, including for expenses dating back to Nov. 2018 — a month after Super Typhoon Yutu hit the CNMI — amounting to $5,388.11.

These reimbursements include $112.10 to CARQUEST for the replacement car battery as well as the following:

  • $79 to Sakura Dining
  • $827.86 to Walmart
  • $159.50 to “aDining”
  • $119.35 to Hot N Juicy Crawfish
  • $140.05 to King’s Restaurant
  • $170.10 to T Galleria
  • $503.36 to Fiesta Resort & Spa Saipan
  • $294.54 to Shogun Sushi
  • $47.75 to JC Cafe
  • $743.26 to Hyatt Regency Resort
  • $790.57 to In Motion Entertainment
  • $900 to The Westin Resort Guam
  • $367.11 to Sportsman’s Warehouse
  • $133.56 to Yeng Chen Chinese Restaurant

The purchases included a JBL Boombox 2 Portable Bluetooth Speakers, a myCharge PowerBank, an Allen Bonz scoped rifle case, and a WindBurner Personal Stove System.

A bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label Scotch was also among these reimbursed purchases, which the minority bloc said was intended to be a gift from the governor to Guam Sen. Wil Castro.

The senator provided the following written statement to the minority bloc:

“In January of 2019, following the coordination of donated relief items to the CNMI as a result of [Super Typhoon] Yutu, I hosted a reception for volunteers and officials at my residence. This was not an official function. I’ve had a number of social functions before and after January, all of which were for the same purpose, to appreciate those who’ve volunteered their time, effort and/or items to assist residents of the CNMI following the destruction of the [super typhoon].

 “As with all social gatherings at my house, food and drinks were donated and prepared by family and friends voluntarily. The events were after 5 p.m.

 “As I recall, many in attendance, some of whom are government officials, may have contributed. Governor Torres was in attendance. He and his guests contributed something to the event either in the form [of] food or drinks.

“Whatever was brought by the governor, I assure you that it was not delivered to me as a personal gift. Any and all items were placed on the tables and made available for all guests to consume.”

The minority bloc said it will obtain another written statement from Senator Castro. The minority bloc wants to know  whether or not he consumed the Scotch that was purchased by and reimbursed to the governor.

The minority bloc also considers questionable the expense for a meal that was, according to the administration, for the Federal Emergency Management Agency officials.

The minority bloc members stated that during their encounters with FEMA officials, these officials  always insisted on paying for their own meals.

Variety learned that FEMA gift rules prohibit employees from receiving gifts from “contractors, vendors, lobbyists, state and local officials seeking grants and FEMA funds, and others that [the employees] interact with professionally. Examples of gifts include gratuities, loans, discounts, entertainment, training, travel, lodging, meals, [and] favors.”

The minority bloc said a number of the items justified by the administration as reimbursable were  “for office use.”

According to the minority bloc, pursuant to Title 1, Division 7, Subsection 7407 of Commonwealth law, “The Commonwealth Government shall not purchase or furnish for or reimburse to any employee, contractor, board member, or other person required to travel on behalf of the Government, its departments, divisions, agencies, and autonomous agencies, an airline ticket for travel in first class, business class, or any other premium class designation. Travel agents issuing tickets for government travel shall only be paid at the regular economy fare or its equivalent. Any government employee who causes an airline ticket to be issued in violation of this section shall pay a civil fine of one-thousand dollars.”

The governor’s trip to Boise, Idaho in Dec. 2018 was mentioned by the minority bloc.

It said the trip was for the governor “to meet with [Idaho] Governor [Clement Leroy] ‘Butch’ Otter…to discuss educational partnerships and national priorities with [the] Department of [the] Interior.”

The minority bloc said Otter at the time was nearing the end of his governorship.

As this trip was made just two months after Super Typhoon Yutu hit Saipan and Tinian, the minority bloc questioned the urgency and the relevancy of Governor Torres’s trip and “extravagant expenses.”

The minority bloc requested that the special committee obtain a trip report from the administration for this particular trip, detailing the date of the meeting with the former Idaho governor, as well as a specific timeline of Governor Torres’ activities during this trip.

 

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