BOOST Connects: Bank of Saipan lists false information


By Vickilyn Manglona Teregeyo

Two companies allege information the Bank of Saipan submitted to the Commonwealth Legislature listing small business grant program awardees is wrong.

Both R&I Corporation and Concepcion Villagomez San Nicolas Real Estate are listed in two separate Bank of Saipan lists claiming requests and grant awards under the federally-funded Building Optimism and Opportunities for Stability Together (BOOST) grant program. The program is under both local and federal investigation following the disclosure of evidence federal funds were misused to make the BOOST awards both political tools and weapons during the election. Gov. Ralph Torres lost by a landslide to Gov.-elect Arnold Palacios at the November 25 runoff election.

(Author’s note: This is the second in our investigative series on companies that received BOOST funding. More to come.)

Mi Yun Lee Kim, the secretary of R&I Corporation said she and her husband, who own and operate Nam Dae Moon and Mura Ichiban Restaurants in Garapan under R&I, are simply businesspeople struggling with the effects of the pandemic.

Asked whether she or her husband have political ties to the Torres administration, she replied, “No. If I had, I’d get more.”

R&I applied for $156,930 in BOOST funding, according to the business plan they submitted to the program’s administrator, the Bank of Saipan.

According to testimony by the bank’s loan officer, Karen Kalen, before the CNMI House of Representatives joint investigative committee on BOOST corruption, Kalen and three others logged in the requested amounts by applicants, among other duties.

The company eventually received $20,000 on December 5, which is less than 13 percent of their request. The problem Ms. Kim have with the bank’s listing is that the requested amount shows only $42,000, making it appear that R&I received nearly 50 percent of their requested amount.

Ms. Kim said she thought the program, in theory, was good for the CNMI to help companies like hers from going under. Unlike other applicants who are politically connected and received hundreds of thousands of dollars each, R&I listed specific uses for its requested funding. Most of the funds would have been used to purchase air conditioners and kitchen equipment.

But her view of the program changed, when the joint investigative committee began revealing the extent of corruption and cronyism.

“I don’t want to being known unfairly,” she said.

Unlike the politically-connected applicants, R&I has been a legitimately-operating business with employees, and submitted proof of business licensure for both restaurants, a letter of compliance with the Division of Revenue and Taxation, a certificate of existence from the Commonwealth’s Office of the Registrar of Corporations, and even price quotations and pictures of the equipment they wanted to buy with the grant funding.

The other company the Bank of Saipan listed with false information is Concepcion Villagomez San Nicolas Real Estate. The Bank of Saipan list shows she was paid a $20,000 BOOST grant. That information is false. Full disclosure: Concepcion San Nicolas is my mother. I would know if she suddenly had $20,000. And, yes, I verified that she didn’t receive any grant funding. Well, I half accused her, and then she set me straight.

My mother was not a political supporter of the Torres administration. Like thousands of others, she did not receive a BOOST grant.


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