Gov. Ralph Torres’s special assistant for administration, Mathilda Rosario, spent hours answering questions from the members of the CNMI House Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee. There was a simple takeaway:
Thousands of dollars in off-island purchases the governor made on numerous shopping sprees are unaccounted for.
In 2020, by request of the last legislature, Ms. Rosario submitted 32 pages of property inventory from the several divisions of the CNMI Office of the Governor. The reason the legislature wanted the inventory was to compare it against receipts Mr. Torres turned in to the Commonwealth Government, and for which he was reimbursed tens of thousands of dollars for items purchased at convenience stores, shopping centers, electronics outlets, fine dining restaurants, a hunting store, and gas stations.
Mr. Torres bought hunting knives, gun cases, party coolers, headsets, phone chargers, Bose speakers, a gas burner, even a wheelbarrow, the infamous Cheetos purchase, and so much more at shops from Boise to Narita, Honolulu, Guam and San Francisco.
After each one of those trips, the governor submitted the receipts of the purchases, certified the purchases were made in the interests of the Commonwealth, then was reimbursed by the taxpayers for the purchases.
According to his office, everything he bought was turned over to the Commonwealth government, and was property of the people.
It took days of testimony, but the truth came out. Of the items listed in the receipts, compared against the property inventory Ms. Rosario herself endorsed to the legislature, the most suspicious of the purchases were missing from the inventory.
“Are the Jabra headsets in the inventory,” Rep. Tina Sablan (D-Saipan) asked Ms. Rosario in one instance.
“No, they are not,” the SAA responded in Chamorro.
“Did you see this yellow wheelbarrow in the inventory list,” committee chairwoman Rep. Celina Roberto Babauta (D-Saipan) asked Ms. Rosario in another instance.
“No, not on the list,” she responded in Chamorro.
In the committee’s comparison of the items on the receipts against the Rosario inventory, the following items – valued in total in the thousands – are unaccounted:
- 5 Jabra headsets
- At least 2 Bose Quiet Comfort headphones
- Bose wireless headphones
- JBL Boombox
- Hubmax-C portable chargers
- Nikon cameras
- GoPro Hero 7
- 4 70-quart coolers
- Rifle cases
- Stove burner
- All of the snacks
Rep. Edwin Propst (D-Saipan) made the point that it seemed odd the governor would purchase coolers and hunting gear in Idaho to ship to Saipan for the use of the Commonwealth government.
“Why would the governor go all the way to Guam, go to Home Depot, and purchase a wheelbarrow and a chainsaw, and then have that shipped to Saipan, if we sell those things here,” Mr. Propst asked rhetorically.
The JGO committee questioned Ms. Rosario and several other high ranking members of the Torres administration in its ongoing investigation of allegations of corruption against Mr. Torres and his wife, Diann.
Among the allegations are that the governor had the Department of Finance reimburse him for thousands of dollars in personal expenditures on several off island shopping sprees. That amounts to felony theft and fraud.
According to the CNMI Constitution, “The legislature may impeach those executive and judicial officers of the Commonwealth subject to impeachment under this Constitution. The house of representatives may initiate impeachment proceedings by the affirmative vote of two-thirds of its members and the senate may convict after hearing by the affirmative vote of two-thirds of its members.” – Section 8, Article II
Further, the constitution states, “The governor and lieutenant governor are subject to impeachment as provided in article II, section 8, of this Constitution for treason, commission of a felony, corruption or neglect of duty.” – Section 19, Article III
Former Gov. Benigno Fitial was driven out of office on far fewer allegations of criminal conduct than evidence suggests Governor Torres is guilty of. Ironically, Mr. Torres was a freshman legislator, when Mr. Fitial was impeached by the CNMI House in February 2013. He was elected on a sweeping mandate by the people for the legislature to crack down on corruption in the Commonwealth.
Mr. Torres and his office have denied any wrongdoing, though hundreds of pages of documented evidence indicates, plainly, that he broke the law several times since becoming governor.