By Eric Rosario
The CNMI House of Representatives special committee investigating Gov. Ralph Torres's alleged corruption has just voted to issue a subpoena to the Secretary of Finance for financial records detailing the illegal personal spending of the governor.
Congresswoman Tina Sablan made the motion, which was seconded by Congressman Ed Propst at the special committee's second meeting, held this morning. All seven of the members present voted to approve the issuance of the subpoena. The matter is historic.
Among the items discussed were memoranda and supporting receipts for reimbursements made to Mr. Torres over the past two years that Kandit previously has reported.
Mr. Propst and Ms. Sablan chose from thousands of pages of damning documents to present a glimmer of the evidence of illegal spending to support the need to subpoena more documents and the possibility of "hundreds" of witnesses.
Mr. Propst led the committee through a review of travel itineraries, airfare tickets, and receipts for reimbursement of a trip to Idaho Mr. Torres took at taxpayer expense between December 19, 2018, and January 2, 2019 while the people of the Commonwealth were struggling to recover from the devastation of Supertyphoon Yutu.
Mr. Torres has a home in Idaho.
Mr. Propst showed the committee the reimbursement memo for that trip that led to his reimbursement of thousands of dollars for purchases made at airport malls on his transit to Idaho, and in shopping centers in Boise. The memo stated the official reason for the trip was to meet with then-Gov. Butch Otter in the interest of education and pursuing national issues. Mr. Otter's term as the governor ended only a few days after that trip, as Mr. Propst pointed out to the committee. He also said there are no other documents, as the law requires, submitted by the governor to justify his use of taxpayer funds for that trip.
No itinerary was filed to demonstrate when Mr. Torres and Mr. Otter allegedly met in Idaho, or what conferences they may have attended.
Mr. Propst also presented Mr. Torres's travel itinerary, which showed he traveled first or business class nearly every leg of his trip to and from Idaho, a clear violation of the CNMI's travel law.
He then went over some of the shopping receipts, questioning how the purchases of a top-of-the-line stereo boom box, two hunting rifle cases, a specialized hunting burner stove, and two 70-quart coolers had any public purpose.
Ms. Sablan took the committee through Mr. Torres's spending of nearly $200 on a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label that he wrote in the margins of the receipt was a gift or Guam Sen. and Republican Congressional candidate Wil Castro.
She also led the discussion on the criminal conversion of a publicly-purchased asset into a private asset.
Kandit will cover both these matters Ms. Sablan presented under separate stories.