By Eric Rosario
Gov. Ralph Torres offered convicted felon Ambrosio Ogumoro a pardon if he could convince at least one Democrat to vote for Rep. Angel Demapan for speaker. Mr. Ogumoro contacted several members of the newly-sworn in 22nd Commonwealth House of Representatives Democratic caucus with this information, asking these Democrats to make a deal. None of them did, and Mr. Demapan's campaign for speaker eventually was defeated.
Some Democratic members of the CNMI House of Representatives said that while Mr. Ogumoro is a good man who deserves a second chance from crimes he committed a decade ago, it is reprehensible that the governor would bribe him to do so.
The offer to exchange an official function of the gubernatorial office - such as a pardon - for a political or personal favor is bribery. It is unclear whether any of the representatives have reported the matter to the authorities.
Mr. Ogumoro was convicted in 2015 on nine corruption charges related to his role in shielding former attorney general Edward Buckingham from being served a penal summons during an attempted-late night escape from the Commonwealth on August 4, 2012.
It is unclear what, if any, the governor has offered Republican representatives in exchange for their votes for Mr. Demapan.
"I find it repulsive that the Administration would exploit vulnerable individuals as political pawns and abuse the Power of Pardon granted to the Office of the Governor for petty political gain, essentially, undermining the independence of the Judiciary," Congresswoman Celina Roberto Babauta said about the attempt by the governor and Mr. Ogumoro.
"He did not contact me directly," Congresswoman Leila Staffler, who received pressure from one of Mr. Ogumoro's family members, told Kandit. "I knew about it from colleagues. I got one request from one of his family members once just prior to the organizational session."
"I was not approached directly myself," Congresswoman Tina Sablan said. "I was, however, aware of other members being approached and we discussed the matter within our group over several meetings. We were told that Governor Torres was offering to pardon Ambrosio Ogumoro in exchange for one of our Democrats voting for Angel Demapan to be the next Speaker. Word was already getting out that the offer was on the table, and some of us were getting calls from concerned citizens urging us to keep our team together. I was very concerned and attempted to reach out to Mr. Ogumoro, but he declined to speak with me. I do see the offer of a pardon in this context as a serious abuse of power."
Kandit has reached out to other members, who reportedly turned down the attempted bribe from Mr. Torres and the Republicans. Some agreed to speak, but only on condition of anonymity so as not to jeopardize any ongoing investigations that may be happening.
"Ambrosio met with the governor, JP Sablan, and Angel Demapan and other Republicans and discussed this plan," one member of the Democratic majority told Kandit on condition of anonymity. "Whoever bolted from our side would be given any committee he or she wanted and the Republicans would unanimously support their bills on the floor. That was the deal they were offering."
"We did everything we could to keep our team together, and we succeeded," Congressman Ed Propst said. "I believe Ambrosio deserves a second chance and perhaps even a pardon, but not in this way. Bribery and extortion had become a norm in CNMI politics and it must end. I am proud that our team would have no part in bribery or extortion schemes."
One of the members claimed a voice recording exists of Sablan and Demapan's involvement in the deal.
One of the members said Mr. Ogumoro is a good man who truly deserves a second chance, "but it is the governor and the Republicans who exploited him and the desperate situation he is in."
"They dangled the pardon carrot in front of Mr. Ogumoro," the member said. "Politics is so dirty."