BOOST team had, ignored written guidelines model since August 8

Wil Castro

Despite Wil Castro’s sworn testimony before the CNMI House of Representatives to the contrary, officials from the Guam Economic Development Authority confirm and have provided evidence that the Torres administration asked for and received Guam’s written guidelines and procedures for administering federally-funded small business grants similar to the CNMI BOOST program.

BOOST stands for Building Optimism and Opportunities for Stability Together. The controversial program was administered by the Bank of Saipan, and expended about $17 million without following any written guidelines or rubric. Mr. Castro – a former Guam senator and chief of staff to former Gov. Ralph Torres – under oath told members of the joint committee that investigated the program late last year that the Torres administration did not have a guide to follow.

“[R]epresentatives from the CNMI reached out to GEDA concerning all the small business pandemic programs we put released since the start of COVID19,” GEDA administrator Melanie Mendiola confirmed to Kandit. “The meeting took place with our deputy administrator Carlos Bordallo, and business development manager Ed Camacho.”

In fact, an email train dating back to August 8, 2022 reveals the Torres administration was corresponding with GEDA officials in its so-called attempt to establish written guidelines for the BOOST program. Instead, a selection committee subjectively reviewed applications for the small business grants in Saipan, Rota, and Tinian, then made recommendations to Mr. Torres for who should be granted money, and how much.

According to documents subpoenaed from the Bank of Saipan, the majority of the companies that received more than $100,000 a piece in grants (some receiving several grants) have close ties and connections, both familial and political, to Torres, selection committee members, and even to republican senators from Tinian.

Those grants were awarded in the weeks following the Torres administration’s receipt of the Guam guidelines; none of which were used by the Commonwealth government to determine objectively how to award whom any of the federal funds meant to save small businesses from going under.

In fact, every person who testified under subpoena during the hearings confirmed there was no rubric or written policy the selection committee followed.

Legislators feverishly attempted to understand how selection committee members fairly decided who would be granted funds, and how much.

“All GEDA small business grant programs relative to the pandemic have to show that they were 1) open prior to the pandemic; 2) suffered business interruption at some point during the pandemic; and 3) first come, first served upon complete doc submission,” Ms. Mendiola told Kandit.

Several business awarded tens- to hundreds of thousands of dollars under the BOOST program did not exist prior to the pandemic. In fact, some were only licensed within weeks of receiving the grant.  According to the records the joint investigative committee received from the Bank of Saipan, there was no clear formulaic look into business interruption and affect on revenues of applicants.

And the processing and awarding of applications certainly was not done on a first-come, first served basis.

“Awards were based as a percentage of historic pre pandemic revenue levels,” Ms. Mendiola said. “We did this so evaluators could be objective and formulaic in their calculations.”

Though the Torres administration had this information and these guidelines, none of it was adopted.

Here are the emails from GEDA, and excerpts of the documents the Torres administration received from GEDA:


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