Palacios asks for greater federal presence as leaders question the absence and integrity of federal criminal justice system in the CNMI

Gov. Arnold Palacios told U.S Senators in Washington, D.C. last week that criminal justice in the CNMI may be hastened if the government posts more federal agents in Saipan. He also asked Congress to afford the CNMI its own U.S. Attorney for the district of the Commonwealth.

The U.S. Department of Justice currently allocates one U.S. Attorney for Guam and the CNMI as a consolidated district. The office operates out of Hagatna, Guam. U.S. Attorney Shawn Anderson reportedly met with CNMI Attorney General Edward Manibusan two weeks ago regarding the federally-funded Building Optimism and Opportunities for Stability Together (BOOST) program.

The controversial expenditure of $17 million under the program, administered by the Bank of Saipan, lined the personal pockets of several republican lawmakers and their families, and cronies of the administration of former Gov. Ralph Torres.

Mr. Palacios’s testimony to the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee made it clear why he was asking for more federal agents and a dedicated United States Attorney in Saipan.

“The Northern Marianas would benefit particularly from a stronger Department of Justice presence, including the assignment of more federal agents based in the Commonwealth, and the appointment of a dedicated District U.S. Attorney,” the governor wrote to U.S. Senators. “We seek federal assistance as well in building a robust financial management system that is tailored to the Commonwealth’s needs, and in bolstering local capacity to monitor the government’s finances, conduct audits, and enforce collections. My aim is to ensure that the systems are in place to deter and detect the kinds of abuses of public funds that were rampant in our recent past, and improve stewardship and accountability for these funds to secure our future.”

Arnold Palacios and David Apatang

He made the request after explaining the daunting task he and Lt. Governor David Apatang have in pulling the Commonwealth government up from the “fiscal cliff.” According to his message, and to the overwhelming evidence of corruption and financial mismanagement by his predecessor, it was Mr. Torres and his administration who proverbially threw the CNMI government over that so-called cliff.

“I entered an office that had been literally stripped of all furniture and equipment by my predecessor. But far more troubling than that, I found the government’s finances in complete disarray,” Mr. Palacios stated before explaining the $86 million deficit in federal pandemic funds Mr. Torres left behind, and the local deficit that has robbed the taxpayers of hundreds of millions of dollars in lost opportunity.

“[W]e are facing fiscal calamity because of years of egregious misappropriation, waste, and abuse of both federal and commonwealth resources with very little oversight and accountability,” the governor wrote.

He explained to senators the ongoing review of the government’s fiscal situation, and the painful layoff of hundreds of government workers in order to stem the fiscal crisis.

“We have also placed high priority on increasing oversight and accountability for federal and local funds,” Mr. Palacios wrote. “My administration has sought assistance from, and pledged full cooperation with, the Commonwealth’s Attorney General, the Office of the Public Auditor, and the U.S. Department of Justice in investigating and holding accountable those responsible for the misuse and abuse of public funds.”

Where are the Feds?

The governor is not alone in his desire for greater federal presence. Longtime civic advocate and businessman Glen Hunter posted on his Facebook profile last week: “The fact that we share a US Attorney with Guam and don’t have a dedicated one is so nuts to me. I have been asking for almost a decade ‘why this is the case?.’ No other jurisdiction in the USA and territories suffers from having no dedicated US Attorney residing in their borders.”

Mr. Hunter wrote, “Add to this that in the past couple decades we have seen our top ranking public officials convicted of criminal acts along with so many other questionable acts by other government officials.”

Ed & Daisy Propst

Rep. Ed Propst takes the local scrutiny of the Justice Department a step further; the congressman three days ago lamenting his exasperation over the lack of federal action against federal crimes and corruption.

“Apparently the biggest federal crime in the whole Marianas is someone smuggling a phone into our prison,” Mr. Propst wrote, referring to a front-page news story about the federal indictment of a CNMI Department of Corrections guard. “Forget the damn hundreds of millions of fraud, corruption, money laundering, right? What a joke. I guess the CNMI is more of a federal holiday vacation spot.”

Mr. Propst is not alone in his criticism of the seeming lackadaisical behavior of federal agents in Saipan.

“They’re always drinking at Godfathers,” another member of the Commonwealth legislature told Kandit on condition we do not publish this legislator’s name. Godfathers is a bar federal agents frequent, reportedly even during working hours.

“If you want to file a complaint that someone committed a federal crime, just go to Godfathers, or turn it into a paper airplane and throw it in a fire, because it seems like these things go nowhere,” the legislator said.

Another issue raised by sources is the suspicion of federal agents colluding with corrupt government officials, especially in the wake of former agents allegedly working for the former governor and his family, or otherwise benefiting from the Torres administration.

One former federal agent, for example, became an attorney who helped the former governor through his impeachment trial last year. Another former federal agent received a large BOOST grant last year in Saipan.

Palacios remains hopeful

Gov. Palacios, however, is keeping his hope in the integrity of the federal criminal justice system, and the local justice system now that Mr. Torres is out of power.

“[M]y administration is revisiting recommendations put forth during the Fiscal Response Summit held in the Marianas in May 2020,” he wrote to U.S. Senators. “The summit was funded and facilitated by Interior, and brought together a wide range of community members from across the public and private sectors to identify creative and practical solutions to the Commonwealth’s fiscal troubles. These included various proposed measures to improve government efficiency, reduce costs, and raise revenue. Many of these recommendations were never actually implemented or seriously explored by my predecessor, but I believe they remain relevant and worthy of consideration today.”


  • Mabel Doge Luhan

      02/14/2023 at 6:06 AM

    My dear pets,

    We all love a man (or woman) in uniform, don’t we? I’ve fantasized about Rafet thrown to the ground and forcefully restrained by G-men more times than I care to admit!

    But this is why we aspire to rule of law, not rule by law!

    Federal prosecutions don’t work like TV, nor even like DPS. Remember the federal inmate at DOC who missed playing Wordle? That happened one year ago, and the conspirators were indicted only now. That’s how long it takes to gather the evidence, secure admissible testimony, and convene a grand jury. That doesn’t even include the trial! Can you imagine CNMI DPS (or even OAG) keeping its attention on a single case for a whole year? I can’t, unless it was a case of Bud Light!

    This is why the federal conviction rate at trial is 99.6%.

    With due respect to the always well intentioned but often misinformed Glen Hunter, how much does he know about the workings of federal prosecutions? And what does he hope to gain with a US Attorney physically living in the CNMI — rather than the team of AUSAs we already have? Does he believe that the successful prosecutions he himself enumerates are indicative of nonfunctioning federal law enforcement?

    How does the legislator in question know those FBI agents’ working hours? And how does the legislator in question know that reports of crimes are ignored? Unlike DPS, FBI agents don’t go around detailing what they’re doing, not even to their first cousins!

    A strong hunch about a crime is very different from evidence that withstands a vigorous defense. If you want a legal system where people are thrown in jail “because everybody knows you did it,” there are many countries you can move to, some of them a very short plane ride away!

    All those fantasy authoritarians in the comment sections imagine the revolver in their hand, not pointed at their head. Every great historical miscarriage of justice started when “the people know who’s guilty, and we don’t need your fancy legal procedure.” That’s what our Founding Daddies wanted to avoid. Sorry, barstool authoritarians!

    And why the hullabaloo about FORMER federal employees associating themselves with CNMI politicians? Let the past be past! Only Jesus (Taisague) can time travel!

    Valentine’s Day always reminds me of cheering on J. Edgar Hoover at the 17th Street High Heel Race. Sitting next to me in the front row was Roy Cohn, who confidentially told me about his boss, “He’s not much of a runner, but his conviction rate is through the roof!”

  • I am loving this! This administration is living themselves no room to screw up which is commendable and honorable.

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