By Troy Torres
(Tumon, Guam) On August 25, 2015, then-Congressman Rafael Demapan introduced House Bill 19-95 to further tailor regulations on the casino. On September 30, 2015, then-Rep. Angel Demapan made a major amendment to the bill, removing the standard and mandated completion bond on the casino facilities that to this day have not been completed.
The completion bond would have required Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC to finish the construction of its approved facilities, or forfeit millions of dollars to the Commonwealth for restitution of its failure to do so. But it is the consequential effect of the completion bond that means more to the safety of the construction workers, and the use of local vendors to source construction supplies and equipment that meets building standards.
A completion bond's covenant would have bound the casino to rules and regular compliance inspections for those rules to be followed. Among those rules would have been safety standards for workers, additional protocols to ensure worker safety, and the use of construction supplies and techniques that meet a certain threshold.
This would have added millions to the cost of building the facilities.
Rather than dealing with a regulatory requirement that any other large-scale construction project would have been required to undertake, casino associates instead drafted the amendment for Mr. Demapan to introduce, and he did. Then-acting Gov. Ralph Torres signed the bill into Public Law 19-24 on December 4, 2015 with the Angel Demapan amendment in it. The late Gov. Eloy Inos was very sick at the time; he died 24 days later.
Mr. Demapan, Kandit previously reported, had been receiving payments from IPI between 2016 and 2017 in varying amounts month after month. He was a member of the Commonwealth Legislature at the time; and he had just saved the casino millions of dollars.
The cost to the Commonwealth? That has yet to be seen. But if the casino decided one day to stop construction, it could, and there's nothing the people of the CNMI can do about it. Thanks to Angel Depaman, who now is Gov. Ralph Torres's chief of staff.
This is part of a long history of politicians wheeling and dealing with the casino to achieve ends favorable to the casino, while those politicians receive remuneration... bribes... pay to play, as it has come to be called.
The effect of this corruption was voiced out today in a meeting of the Commonwealth Casino Commission, where several vendors whom IPI owes money for breach of contract took a stand and spoke out against the casino before the CCC.
"That IPI breached agreements with all businesses listed here demonstrates that IPI engages in unsuitable methods of operation which deserves the Commission's scrutiny and discipline according to the applicable law and regulations," the letter signed by 24 business representatives on December 17 to the CCC states.
An attorney for several of the businesses pleaded with the commission to use its powers to force IPI to comply during the commission's meeting yesterday.
Three members of the House of Representatives, gaming committee chairman Rep. Ralph Yumul, Rep. Ed Propst, and Rep. Tina Sablan all pled with the commission to do its job. Mr. Yumul reminded commissioners that he asked for information from the CCC and was snubbed, even though his committee holds oversight over the commission.
Ms. Sablan was direct in her warnings to the commission: "It is a well established fact among experts in the gaming industry that the propensity for corruption in casino operations is great. It is for that reason that members of this commission be above reproach ... that they not have even the perception of a conflict of interest."
Ms. Sablan raised the issue of reports that certain commissioners indeed had conflicts of interest. Kandit previously reported that commission vice chairman Joseph Castro Reyes's common-law wife, Maryann Milne, receives tens of thousands monthly from the casino, which rents one of her properties.
Mr. Propst and Ms. Sablan today took their pleas to their colleagues in the House, calling for the start of an oversight inquiry on behalf of the vendors owed money, the people who have been hurt from the construction of the facilities, and the people of the Commonwealth, whom the casino still owes tens of millions of dollars in taxes.
Sen. Paul Manglona (I-Rota) raised this very issue on the floor of the Senate earlier this week, calling on his colleagues to do something about the casino operating without regard whatsoever for the rule of law.
One way the casino has been able to get around the law, though, has been to pay elected members of the Legislature to change the law for them. In the case of Angel Demapan, he helped the casino to escape millions in costs in exchange for three things: 1) the personal benefits he has received from the casino, and 2) the protection of the Commonwealth, and 3) his soul.