By Nancy Maanao
(Tumon, Guam) The only times the Saipan casino ever was fined by the Commonwealth Casino Commission were in 2017; all but one of the fines occurred prior to the death of the CCC's sole investigations agent, Allan Boyer Dela Cruz.
While casino operations were allowed by law since the signing of CNMI Public Law 18-56 on July 11, 2014, the formal regulations of the CCC, the industry's regulatory body, were not adopted until October 2016. According to the CCC's multi-year report letter from chairman Juan Sablan, "On August 24, 2017, one of IPI’s Service Provider, Gold Mantis Construction Decoration (CNMI), LLC, was issued a stipulated order by the CCC to pay a fine in the amount of $192,000 for not complying with licensing application requirements."
That was less than one month before Mr. Dela Cruz's lifeless body was found at his parents's Mt. Tapochau home entrance.
Mr. Sablan's report continues: "On October 26, 2017, IPI was assessed a penalty in the amount of $115,000 for not complying with the Commission’s Minimum Internal Control Standards (MICS) . The MICS is a set of detailed policies and procedures established and comprising of Key Control, Rules of the Game, Table Games, Electronic Gaming Devices, Poker Rooms, Drops and Counts, Casino Cashiering and Credit, Casino Accounting, Admissions and Ticketing, Currency Transaction Reporting, Internal Audit, Surveillance, Security, Purchasing and Contract Administration, Excluded Persons, Self-Exclusion, Forms, Management Information Systems, Tips, Cashless, Promotional, and Bonusing Systems, and Server-Supported Game Systems."
Investigating compliance with the MICS was Mr. Dela Cruz's job. It was his investigation that led to the $115,000 fine, though he was murdered a month prior to its issue.
Family and friends of Mr. Dela Cruz say he was a consummate professional, and that he took his job seriously. He hated corruption, and was intent on exposing wrong doing in his sphere of influence.
Attempts to silence Mr. Dela Cruz could have started as early as March 27, 2017, when a police detective in an unmarked car stopped on the road, where Mr. Dela Cruz's car allegedly was stopped and arrested him for family violence. Police corruption in Guam and the CNMI is a fact of life; some cops can be bought out or rented from time to time either to look the other way during the commission of crimes, or to commit the crimes for people who can pay the price. Whether these charges were real, or this story made up by the cop is something we'll never really know; Mr. Dela Cruz was dead within months.
He was found outside his parents's home on September 22, 2017. Former Guam Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Aurelio Espinola in 2017 ruled the cause of death 'undetermined,' and the Department of Public Safety classified the investigation as a homicide case as a result of the medical examiner's report.
Earlier this year the Saipan Tribune reported that forensic pathologist Dr. Robert Walter Mann examined Mr. Dela Cruz's skull and, according to the article, that Mr. Dela Cruz died of a head injury from a fall.
In the October 2017 minutes of the CCC, the commission never once mentions the untimely death of their agent. A bizarre interview with CCC executive director Edward Deleon Guerrero in the October 27, 2017 edition of the Marianas Variety quotes him as wanting to know Mr. Dela Cruz's cause of death so the CCC can fill his vacancy:
“We are wondering why. We don’t know why the body is still there. So we are wondering if there is foul play involved. We want to know what caused his death as we need to have a death certificate. Securing a death certificate is also part of the procedure in hiring a replacement,” Deleon Guerrero said.
Whatever hiring has happened has not resulted in any strict compliance by the CCC over the Saipan casino. The October 2017 fine was the last one issued, according to its report.
As a matter of fact, the annual $20 million payment to the Community Benefit Fund went delinquent just months after Mr. Dela Cruz's death. Imperial Pacific International (CNMI), LLC was supposed to make a $10 million payment to the CBF in January 2018, and pay the balance of the $20 million in June 2018. To date, IPI has paid only $7 million in 2018, and none of its $20 million liability to the CBF in 2019.
Gaming oversight chairman Rep. Ralph Yumul wrote to the CCC and to the CNMI Lottery Commission on October 18, 2019, asking the agencies what they've done to ensure IPI compliance with casino regulations. Mr. Deleon Guerrero wrote back to Mr. Yumul only days ago on November 26, regretting to inform him "that the Commission is unable to comment on this matter as it is currently under investigation."
The CCC executive director, in his letter, also remind Mr. Yumul that the governor also has enforcement authority over the casinos; a fact of the issuance of the casino's permit in the days prior to the formation of the CCC.
As a matter of fact, everyone who has anything to do with the governance of the IPI operation either is a Torres administration cabinet member, or a close family member of Mr. Torres himself.
With so many signals of wrongdoing and corruption between the casino operation and top political leaders dating back to 2017, and of Allan Dela Cruz's proximity to the evidence and investigation of this wrongdoing and corruption, has law enforcement done anything to connect the two pieces of this puzzle?
For one, Mr. Dela Cruz's case still has not been solved. As a matter of fact, the chief investigator of the CNMI Attorney General's Office at the time of Mr. Dela Cruz's murder, Vicente Babauta, as of October 2018 became the boss of the investigations and enforcement division that Allan Dela Cruz once was part of.
Secondly, there has been no local prosecution whatsoever of the abuse of power and corruption happening within the CNMI. It took the Federal Bureau of Investigation to start that process. To this date, local law enforcement and the attorney general have done nothing in the way of investigating and bringing the corrupt to justice.
Throughout 2018 and 2019, there has been the discovery of several dead people whose deaths have been classified as mysteries, or their murders unsolved. The Department of Public Safety has not provided much in the way of information.
This year alone, seven people were found dead in random places on the side of the road or on a beach. In the past three weeks three people were found dead, or are presumed dead from their vehicles flying off a cliff.
In a political culture of silence and a pervasive climate of fear gripping the Commonwealth, it hasn't always been popular to say what many people think whenever a new body washes up ashore or is found in a weird place. But maybe if more people started to say exactly what was on their minds and talk things through, the families of these victims may finally see the justice they've been looking for. Maybe it's time for more people to start talking about that politically-taboo theory they've had in their minds about these murders.