By Troy Torres
Kandit, in December 2019 following a review of hundreds of pages of receipts and reimbursement memoranda, first exposed the news that CNMI Gov. Ralph Torres used 17 credit cards to make stateside purchases for which taxpayers fully reimbursed him to the tune of thousands of dollars.
On the final day of Department of Finance director of financial services Bernadita Palacios's testimony before the House of Representatives Tuesday, Congresswoman Tina Sablan (D-Saipan) revealed that he used nine more.
Exhibit 16 in the House Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee corruption investigation into Mr. Torres, his wife, and his administration, lists the suffixes of 26 different credit cards that appear on a number of receipts the governor turned in to Ms. Palacios's office for reimbursement. He attested in each of the reimbursement memos to the appropriate public purpose of the purchases, according to Ms. Palacios, and according to what is written in the memos themselves.
"May a government official be reimbursed for expenses made on other people's credit cards?" Congressman Ed Propst (D-Saipan) asked Ms. Palacios.
"How will we know?" Ms. Palacios responded, to which Mr. Propst quickly retorted, "That's a great question. Does the Department of Finance verify that cards and receipts actually belong to the official requesting reimbursement?"
"No," she responded.
"How does DOF know expenses are for a public purpose?" Mr. Propst asked Ms. Palacios.
She responded, "It is declared that way."
The governor turned the receipts in to the DOF for reimbursement following several on-island dining and off island expenses. The earliest of these reimbursement memos date to 2015.
Most of the receipts detail lavish dining at fancy restaurants and shopping sprees for personal items, such as Bose headphones, speaker systems, coolers, soft candy, and Cheetos.
Several receipts even reveal that he charged the CNMI taxpayers to pay for dinner for his personal business partners.