By Troy Torres
(Tumon, Guam) Attorney Joey San Nicolas is replacing Phil Tydingco as Imperial Pacific International (CNMI), LLC legal counsel. Mr. Tydingco was hired a few years ago from Guam, where he was the controversial chief prosecutor.
Mr. Tydingco has since become entrenched in Commonwealth corporate and political corruption. His office was among those raided. His cell phones were confiscated by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents.
Mr. Tydingco associated with the worst of them. His sister, U.S. District Court of Guam Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood's son, Michael Gatewood, attended and made a significant donation to Gov. Ralph Torres's June 2018 campaign fundraiser on Guam, an obvious flex of Tydingco political muscle.
His other sister, Daniel, is one of the heads of an eight-year-old conspiracy to rid the Guam seaport of political opponents. He is implicated in crimes involving the falsification and destruction of public records, forged documents, covering up of misconduct, making false reports to federal law enforcement officers, and more.
Their foothold on their self-made political dynasty just took a hit, and now one of them is disgraced by this massive political scandal in a place that isn't even his home.
Now comes news of the resignation of IPI CEO Mark Brown, the man with direct ties to President Trump and his days as a casino operator. His seedy reputation precedes him, as well. The connections he made for IPI to some of the most powerful people in the United States, and how that has translated to illegal Chinese money flowing into the 2020 Presidential race, has been under investigation since at least January 20, 2017.
The Trump inaugural ball held on that date, co-hosted by CNMI Gov. Ralph Torres and then-Guam Gov. Eddie Calvo, was broadcast and published around the world as law-breaking infusion of Chinese money to influence American elections that it was. The CNMI casino was at the heart of it. And it connects everyone involved to a story that, once the indictments of Gov. Torres and his brothers happen, will place the Mariana Islands on the international map again in a very bad light.
The casino knows all this. The casino has pivoted.
They have hired Joey San Nicolas, the former attorney general and mayor of Tinian, to replace Mr. Tydingco.
Mr. San Nicolas's reputation is the exact opposite of his predecessor. He is known, if anything, for his integrity and for trying to be part of the system to shirk corruption. The Commonwealth called upon him in the wake of former AG Ed Buckingham's fall. He helped to restore trust and confidence in the office of the chief legal officer of the Commonwealth.
And rather than taking a life-long appointment to the bench of the CNMI superior court, Mr. San Nicolas wanted to help make a difference for his home island, Tinian. So he gave up the bigger salary and ran for mayor and served there for four years.
Following his stint in politics, he went back into private practice, opening his law firm. His wife, Connie Manglona San Nicolas, shared an office with her husband as she opened her small real estate company, White Sands, recently.
So, the casino has found someone with a far greater reputation than Mr. Tydingco's to replace him and to give a new face to its operations. Now, in the wake of Mr. Brown's reputation, they have an opportunity to bring aboard someone with a far better reputation than Mr. Brown's.
Can they do it? Whom will they choose? Will he or she, in fact, be free of seedy connections to the CNMI and Guam political class, which is sullied and covered with the filth of their corruption?
Has the regional and impending international coverage of the political corruption affected the casino's operation? Are the operators pivoting under the dense climate and scrutiny? Their chief enablers, Gov. Ralph Torres and his brothers, very likely will be indicted and face a slew of federal corruption and electioneering charges. The Torres's political capital is not what it used to be. In the realm of corporate politics, they're done.
The casino operators have no use for them anymore. Their scheme to launder money through an operation they've invested millions in, must go on in their corporate eyes. They understand that they need new friends; must play by the rules at least for now; must burn their relationships with the very people who plundered the Commonwealth to their benefit and for the corrupt politicians's personal gain; and must give every impression of change for the better.
But, will things change? Will a legal counsel with conscience and a new CEO without ties to Trump and who has a clean reputation make the difference that will matter to the people of the Commonwealth?
We should hope, at the least, that time will tell and turn positive. But as long as the casino operates as it has without repudiating its connections with the corrupt, its shady land deals, and its highly questionable cash flow, then this ill-fated rendezvous with the Torres family only will be replaced with another regime that will plunder the Commonwealth again.