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Variations | Not so long ago

THE recent FBI raids on Saipan reminded me of certain past events in the NMI and Guam that not a lot of people still recall.

Let’s start with the oversight hearing conducted in the summer of 1992 by the U.S. House Subcommittee on Insular and International Affairs chaired by an old friend of the NMI, Democrat Ron de Lugo of the U.S. Virgin Islands. The topic was the NMI’s garment industry, and one of those who appeared before the panel was, according to the chairman himself, “a very interesting person from the islands,” NMI special judge Larry Hillblom. Yes, the very same.

In his testimony, Hillblom noted that ComputerLand founder William H. Millard (who moved to Saipan in 1986, and left in 1990, never to return) had alleged that there was “massive corruption” in the NMI government. It was front-page news “all over,” Hillblom said. “The response by the federal government was to send George Procter, a well seasoned and experienced prosecutor, along with four or five FBI agents, probably the largest number of FBI agents on a population base that was ever sent anywhere. They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, probably millions of dollars, investigating government corruption and they found one. That was the [case involving three lawmakers]. And the name of the NMI was in the New York Times [and] the LA Times…. When…basically the massive corruption that was alleged was not found, there wasn’t one whimper by the press.”

In Dec. 2003, Guam’s former Democratic governor, Carl T.C Gutierrez, was indicted on corruption charges. Guam’s first elected AG said the case was the “tip of iceberg.” Also indicted were Gutierrez’s former chief of staff, former airport authority chief, and a former Republican senator who lost to Gutierrez in the 1994 gubernatorial election. Other former cabinet officials would also face charges. Gutierrez alone would be acquitted. As for Guam’s first elected AG, he finished last in a three-way race in 2006. He was also an unsuccessful candidate in the 2008, 2010 and 2018 elections.

The most dramatic government corruption case in recent NMI/Guam history hit the front-page 33 years ago when Democratic Gov. Ricky Bordallo of Guam was indicted, the NY Times reported, “on Federal charges that he accepted or solicited more than $100,000 in bribes, some of it delivered to him in a brown paper bag.” The feds accused the 58-year-old Bordallo of accepting “a series of kickbacks in exchange for his ‘corrupt influence’ to promote business projects.”

In “Destiny’s Landfall: A History of Guam,” author Robert F. Rogers noted that by the time of Bordallo’s indictment, “the taint of corruption had already enveloped GovGuam. This taint was due to investigations, arrests, and trials of lesser GovGuam officials as well as Bordallo family members and business associates, even though some of the offenses predated his administration. Among such trials was the October 1985 conviction of former [Department of Education] Director Dr. Katherine Aguon. Five DOE officials were indicted with her, and six vendors were implicated, but only Dr. Aguon ended up serving eighteen months in a federal prison in California. While she was in prison, her conviction was overturned on appeal and remanded. She was never retried after her release from prison and resumed her work on Guam as an educator.”

K. William O’Connor, the U.S. attorney on Guam, told the NY Times “that [Governor Bordallo’s] indictment followed the recent convictions on corruption charges of nearly 40 other [island] officials….” The indictment “capped a 20-month investigation by the Justice Department.”

A few days later, Governor Bordallo won Guam’s Democratic primary, garnering 10,493 votes to beat Speaker Carl T.C. Gutierrez who received 5,995 votes. Bordallo said the charges against him were politically motivated.

In the Nov. 1986 general elections, Bordallo lost to his Republican opponent, Joe Ada, whose margin of victory was 7.6 percent. The Democrats, however, retained their majority in the Legislature.

Bordallo’s jury trial began in Jan. 1987 and ended on Feb. 13 when jurors convicted him on two counts of extortion, bribery and conspiracy. In April 1987, he was sentenced to nine years imprisonment and was ordered to pay a $35,000 (equivalent today to about $79,000) fine and $79,600 (about $180,000 today) in restitution. He appealed his conviction.

In 1988, the Ninth Circuit overturned eight of his convictions, but upheld the convictions on conspiracy to obstruct justice and witness tampering. He appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court but it refused to hear the case. In Dec. 1989, the District Court resentenced him to four years.

On Jan. 31, 1990, the day of his scheduled flight to a federal minimum security facility in California, Bordallo drove his jeep to the Paseo Loop where he draped Guam’s flag on his shoulders and chained himself, the AP reported, “to a statue of Chief Quipuha, the first native chief in Guam to adopt Christianity.” The former governor then “shot himself with a .38-caliber pistol.” He was 63.
In 1997, during the administration of Gov. Carl T.C. Gutierrez, the governor’s complex in Adelup was officially named after the late former Governor Bordallo.

In Aug. 2018, Independent Guahan honored Bordallo as a “maga’taotao — a notable figure who’s helped guide the island and the Chamoru people in the quest for self-determination.”

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