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Special Committee holds first meeting in historic investigation of Gov. Ralph Torres

By Nancy I. Maanao

The Special Committee on Fiscal Review of Executive Expenditures began its inaugural meeting at 9:12 a.m. today in the Commonwealth Legislature.

The historic first meeting of the committee, tasked with investigating the illegal spending of public money by Gov. Ralph Torres, began with a decision to follow the rules of the House of Representatives, and a consensus that subpoenas for documents and testimony will be issued via vote of the committee.

Rep. Tina Sablan explained to the committee that its subpoena power is crucial due to the Torres administration's failure to disclose several documents to the House minority seven months ago. In December 2019, the independent members of the House submitted an Open Government Act request to the Department of Finance and to the Governor's Office for documents related to the governor's expenditures, and to the Community Benefit Fund.

Ms. Sablan told the committee several documents related to the governor's first class travel, reimbursements, personal security detail, and the CBF were not disclosed by the OGA deadline.

There also were several documents, where information was redacted that may be important to the committee's investigation, including the suffixes of credit card numbers previously disclosed by the DOF in a similar OGA disclosure. The suffixes, which are the last four digits of a 16-digit credit card number, may play a role in identifying the actual source of spending for which Mr. Torres was reimbursed by Commonwealth taxpayers.

According to the documents containing the non-redacted suffixes, Mr. Torres was reimbursed for expenditures made on 17 different credit cards.

The reimbursement documents provide evidence of the spending of Commonwealth funds on purchases that appear personal in nature and that exceed the Commonwealth's authorization to its chief executive for reimbursable expenses, official representation, and procurement. The documents also indicate taxpayers paid for Mr. Torres and his wife to travel first class nearly everywhere they went, which is against the law.

Documents related to the CBF show glaring disparities in reported amounts of deposits and withdrawals from the fund, and its current reported balance. The documents also show Mr. Torres unilaterally allowed Imperial Pacific International (CNMI), LLC to keep the funds in an account it controls.

Ms. Sablan said the committee needs to add to its scope of investigation the governor's recent vacation to the northern islands for the infamous Deer Meat for Dinner excursion.

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