Immigration Training: Abramoff-connected lobbyist attends

Photo from A Day in Court blog

May 8, 2009

Karidat and Micronesian Legal Services Corp. sponsored a two-day training focusing on issues pertaining to the U.S. immigration. Attorneys, law enforcement business owners and community members attended the training according to the Marianas Variety.

Speakers included David Gulick, director of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Citizenship and Immigration Services Honoulu Office, Peggy Gleason, a Washington, DC based attorney with CLINIC (Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.), and Evangeline Abriel from Santa Clara University School of Law.

There is a feeling of apprehension and uncertainty among nonresidents who are deeply rooted in the CNMI. Not knowing what the transitional guest worker program will look like is especially troubling for nonresident parents of U.S. citizen children. Lauri Ogomuro, Karidat shelter manger addressed this issue:
“In Karidat, we see a lot of people and they have a lot of questions. Everybody in the community right now doesn’t know what’s going to happen but we all know that change is coming. Everybody wants to know how it’s going to affect them,” she told the Variety.

“So our idea was that the more legal practitioners in the community have the legal information, the better for the rest of the community because they will have more ideas and a little bit of information to pass to the community,” she added

Thousands of guest workers have established their families in the CNMI over the years.

Some have adult children who can or have petitioned them under the family-based immigration program.

Others with minor children, however, fear their families might be separated because they have no permanent status to stay on the islands.
The Marianas Variety quotes Peggy Gleason as saying, "The regulations are crucial and important components of the federalization law because they interpret how the changes should be carried out when hosting migrant workers, foreign investors and their dependents."
From the Variety:
“We want to make sure that everyone stays here legally,” said Gleason in an interview. “It seems that, among other things, it’s good that people get involved now. They are writing regulations on the statute and those are coming out before November so they can have a say on how it’s interpreted.”

She said there is a two-year grace period for foreign workers with children to stay on island, provided, they have a legal status.

“The way the statute is written, you must have a lawful status in the CNMI. If your employer [shuts down’ then you don’t have a visa [a legal status],” she added.

She noted that there is a provision in the federalization law that requires the U.S. Congress to revisit the statute’s impact on the CNMI and make recommendations.

“Two years after the enactment [last year], Congress has to know exactly how many guest workers there are and make recommendations what should be done,” she said.
Karidat and MLSC provided an important service to the community by hosting the training, which appears to have been very successful.

Abramoff-Connected Lobbyist Attends Immigration Training
According to the Marianas Variety "private and public attorneys" attended the training and according to the Day in Court web site, "Approximately 70 people attended, including attorneys, social workers, legislators, law enforcement officers, and interested members from the business and professional community." Photos show former AG Matt Gregory, attorney Mark Hanson and other notable attorneys, speakers, and some Karidat personnel. But the most interesting photo of the training on the Day in Court web site reveals that another participant at the training was lobbyist and Abramoff-pal, Juan Carlos Benitez. (He can be seen in a photo on the web site that I borrowed and placed above. I cropped and blew it up below.)

Who is Juan Carlos Benitez? Juan Carlos Benitez was an Abramoff-pal, a McCain campaign fundraiser, a backer of U.S. Attorney General Gonzalez, and a lobbyist for the CNMI. This Lobbying Disclosure Report shows that he was paid $60,000 from July to December 2004 by the CNMI government.

Benitez is married to Ramona Jones who held several political appointments in the Bush Administration including serving as Special Advisor for Economic Policy for the Insular Areas at the Department of Interior's Insular Affairs Office under Deputy Assistant Secretary David Cohen, serving as Deputy White House Liaison for Secretary Colin Powell at the State Department, working at the White House to assist with the Office of Homeland Security and other agencies in the National Security Portfolio, and Director of Special Projects in the Investment Development and Economic Growth Department of the Overseas Private Investment Corp. Ramona Jones grew up on Tinian and Guam is the daughter of Guam businessman Ken Jones (Jones and Guerrero, Inc.) and the former Elaine Cruz.

In 2001, Abramoff was working to get former CNMI Secretary of Labor and Immigration, Mark Zachares, a position in Interior so he could manipulate policy in favor of the CNMI. He failed and Zachares subsequently took a position as a key staffer with Don Young's Transportation Committee. Zachares plead guilty of Abramoff-related crimes in 2007.

According to page 63 of the 2006 Congressional report from the House Reform Committee, that same year Abramoff was also working with White House contact Carl Rove to land Benitez a key position in the Justice Department so he'd be able to manipulate policy in regard to the CNMI labor and immigration. This time he was successful. Benitiez became the Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices at the Justice Department (There's that special counsel title again.) From the report:
7. Juan Carlos Benitez’s DOJ Appointment
On one occasion, the White House made a permanent appointment advocated by the Abramoff team. According to the e-mail documents, Abramoff sought the appointment of Juan Carlos Benitez to be Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices at the Department of Justice, and the President appointed Benitez to that position. On March 21, 2001, Abramoff wrote that he was “able to get . . .to Rove” the resume of Juan Carlos Benitez. Three months later, President Bush announced he would appoint Benitez to be the Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices at the Justice Department. This position gave Benitez authority over enforcing provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act and conducting investigations relating to alleged unfair employment practices,283 issues of importance to Abramoff clients such as the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
Here's the text of the email from Abramoff to Benitez:
From: Abramoff, Jack (Dir-DC-Gov)
Sent:Wednesday, March 21, 2001 4:43 PM
To:'Juan Carlos Benitez'
Subject: RE: White House meeting

Super. Should I call anyone to try to get feedback? I was able to get your resume to
-----Original Message------
From: Juan Carlos Benitez {mail to: blacked out}
Sent: Wednesday, Mach 21, 2001 5:19 PM
To: abramoff@ blacked out
Subject: White House meeting

Today, I had an interview with Ruben Barrales, Inter-Governmental Affairs Director at the White House. It is my believe that the interview went well. I will keep you inform as things progress in the near future.
There is also a copy of part of the deposition of Ruben Barrales being questioned on his involvement and/or knowledge of Benitez being given the position, and knowledge of White House officials receiving tickets or other gifts from Abramoff and Kevin Ring.

You can view all three Benitez-Abramoff related documents here.

After leaving the WH position Benitez joined the lobbying firm of Cassidy and Associates. This is the firm where Abramoff-pal Todd Boulanger worked before he was indicted for Abramoff related crimes. Other former Cassidy lobbyists include Trevor Blackann (indicted), Frasier Verrusio (indicted), and James Hirni (indicted). The Benitez profile on the Cassidy and Associates web site states:
Senior Vice President

Juan Carlos Benitez is a leader in the Republican Hispanic community and has exceptionally close ties to the White House. A native of Puerto Rico and first-hand participant in U.S. territory management, he was formerly the prime U.S. advocate for the government of the U.S. Pacific Island Territory of Guam. He serves as one of two in-house international relations specialists at Cassidy and has particular expertise in labor, employment and justice issues. With his depth of knowledge and broad network of contacts, Mr. Benitez is a tremendous asset to our firm.

Mr. Benitez comes to us directly from the Bush II Administration, where he served as Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices after being nominated by President George W. Bush and confirmed unanimously by the Senate in 2001. As Special Counsel, Mr. Benitez was the highest-ranking Hispanic presidential appointee at the Justice Department.
Benitez made news across the nation during the last presidential election. He served as a McCain money-raiser or "bundler", and McCain was attacked because of Benitez's Abramoff connections. He previously made headlines for supporting Attorney General Alberto Gonzales over his firings of the eight attorney generals. From The Hill:
Despite lack of support from Republicans on Capitol Hill for embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, one K Street lobbyist has come to his defense in the controversy over the firings of eight U.S. attorneys.

Juan Carlos Benitez, a senior vice president at lobbying giant Cassidy & Associates, circulated letters of support from Latino and Hispanic groups and police organizations to reporters last week. Some of the groups had already written letters of support for Gonzales, which the Department of Justice’s (DoJ) public-affairs office previously sent to a select group of reporters and editorial boards. Benitez added letters from other Hispanic and Latino groups in his e-mails.

Benitez’s effort to prop up Gonzales included letters from the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, the Fraternal Order of Police, the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Hispanic Alliance for Progress Institute, the Texas Association of Mexican-American Chambers of Commerce and the Latino Coalition.
It has been reported that Benitez profited from his wife, Ramona's Interior position, and had questionable lobbying efforts on behalf of Guam. From Fired Up America:
Exactly two weeks to the day after Ramona Jones received an appointment by the Bush administration to serve as a special advisor for economic policy for the Insular areas, including Guam, Juan Carlos Benitez signed up his first client as a lobbyist.

According to reports in the Pacific Daily News, the major daily newspaper in Guam, on March 12, 2003, the board of the Guam Economic Development and Commerce Authority (GEDCA) approved the hiring of a company owned by Mr. Benitez, the Washington Pacific Economic Development Group (WPEDG), to lobby in Washington, DC on their behalf. The price tag: $125,000 per month.

The WPEDG is a Guam corporation founded by Juan Carlos Benitez and two accountants from Guam. According to a report by KUAM-TV, Mr. Benitez controlled 4998 shares with the other two men owning one share each.

The contract with the GEDCA contemplated that Mr. Benitez would put together a lobbying team to advocate for Guam. The team included: Benitez; Mr. Roy Coffee, a partner at O'Connor and Hannan; David Distefano, a former chief of staff to Rep. Bob Ney (convicted); Leo Giacometto, a former chief of staff to Senator Conrad Burns, and Xavier Romero, a former economic development official in Puerto Rico. (click on links I added to see the Abramoff ties for each member of the Benitez team)

The contract called for a fee of $125,000 per month. At the time the contract was signed, the GEDCA planned to encourage other agencies of the government of Guam to participate in funding the contract, which they anticipated would run for a full year at a cost of $1.5 million. However, the GEDCA limited their contribution under the contract to $375,000.

That an agreement existed to pay Benitez and his firm $125,000 a month to lobby for Guam is clear. Exactly what effort Mr. Benitez and his firm put in on behalf of Guam, and when, is less clear.
According to the Pacific Daily News, at a meeting in Guam on May 23, 2003, Mr. Benitez made a presentation in which he claimed that his efforts had already yielded more than $60 million in federal funds for Guam.

However, according to the lobbyist disclosure statement filed by Mr. Benitez, the effective date of his lobbyist registration wasn't until May 19, 2003. But that's hardly the biggest inconsistency in this whole matter.

At the May 23rd meeting, Benitez took credit for the fact that a congressional committee planned to hold hearings on issues affecting Guam in the fall of 2003. Mr. Benitez also attempted to take credit for the fact that FEMA had agreed to reduce--from 25% to 10%--the government of Guam's share of the recovery costs from typhoon Pongsona.

Benitez claimed that he had arranged multiple meetings to impress upon FEMA representatives just how critical this reduction was to the future of Guam.

However, the report in the Pacific Daily News seems to call into question exactly what role, if any, Mr. Benitez played in FEMA's decition. Benitez was was not hired until March 12th, and by March 15th, GovGuam officials had been notified by FEMA that the match rate had been dropped to 10%.

Either Mr. Benitez worked very quickly, or he took credit for something that had in all likelihood already been decided by the time he was hired.
The article continues raising suggesting that there are "serious questions regarding the conflict of interests posed by the arrangement between Guam officials and Mr. Benitez, given the position that his wife, Ramona Jones, held within the Department of Interior":
In her new position, Ms. Jones was specifically tasked with finding ways to improve the economic conditions on Guam. Mr. Benitez managed to secure a $125,000 a month contract to pursue a very similar end for the Economic Development agency of Guam.

In addition, from her position within DOI, Ms. Jones participated in and arranged meetings which sought to achieve results that Mr. Benitez then attempted to claim credit for with Guam officials.

For example, on April 24, 2003, the Office of Insular Affairs arranged a meeting between 10 federal agencies "to explore ways to work to help Guam and the Commonwealth of Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI) harden their infrastructure so that they w[ould] be better able to survive the next major typhoon." FEMA officials were key participants in the meeting.

At the meeting, the Deputy Assistant Secretary praised Ramona Jones during his discussion of the role played by various federal officials:

Congresswoman Bordallo and others from Guam, including [Special Advisor for Economic Policy] Ramona Jones, helped people in Washington to really understand how difficult the recovery effort has been for Guam and the CNMI.
The release also makes clear that Jones helped to arrange the meeting:

Other Office of Insular Affairs officials with ties to the Western Pacific helped to organize the meeting. In addition to Jones, Guam desk officer and former Guam resident Keith Parsky helped to organize the meeting, as did Julie Flores, a Guam native who is currently on assignment at the Office of Insular Affairs.

Mr. Benitez received a fee of $125,000 per month from the taxpayers of Guam, to arrange meetings that the taxpayers of the United States and Guam were already paying his wife to undertake.
There was also some local coverage about the Benitez-DOI-Guam meetings from the Saipan Tribune: OIA awards over $1.1M to Guam, and Investment development conference in the works.

What is the purpose of setting up the Washington Pacific Economic Group? In this 2008 lobbying report, Benitez is registered as a lobbyist with both Cassidy and Washington Pacific in the same year. In this 2004 report Washington Pacific is his client. Confusing?

One person who attended the immigration training, reported that Benitez was seen speaking to Deanne Siemer during a break. He was seated next to attorney John Thomas Brown of Jones & Guerrero. So is he lobbying for the CNMI again? Is he lobbying for Guam and working to influence policy related to PL 110-229, as was done with Resolution 80 and their successful campaign to remove the grandfathering provision from the original legislation? Any thoughts?


Anonymous said...

Here is a wonderful letter to the editor in the Tribune:

"On deportation

Since the realization that federalization of the CNMI's locally controlled immigration would become an imminent reality, there has been quite a hue and cry from certain sectors of the local nonresident population which has served to draw in many local, and vocal, residents.

The outcry has decidedly polarized the entire NMI-some sounding humanitarian “reasons” for giving “special consideration” to those nonresidents who decided to have babies-thus, U.S. citizens by virtue of birth. And no one (I believe) purposely minimizes the contributions of these nonresidents to the enhancement of the NMI over many years.

Then there is the “other” side; nonresidents deserve no “special considerations” because they came here for “temporary” jobs-not babies and a future life as somehow deserving of “enhanced (U.S.) status” due to nothing more than longevity (and children).

These compelling arguments on both “sides,” and more, will drone on and on until the federal government finally issues those long-awaited final rules and sets up shop later this year. At that point, arguments will no longer matter and action will commence.

Well, here's what (I believe) you can expect: On this past Thursday evening, The CBS Evening News reported the following U.S. Immigration Service statistics regarding deportations from the U.S. of so-called “illegal” aliens. The USCIS has just released the number of nonresidents deported from the U.S. Who had U.S. citizen CHILDREN, many of whom had been in the U.S. for 10 or more years and held jobs-some of them very highly placed jobs.

That figure is 360,000 persons with U.S. children! In most cases, the children went “back home” with their deported parents-giving up friends, schools, homes, and all the “niceties” of being “U.S.” Of course, a few stayed behind (usually the older ones) with other families-after all they are U.S. citizens and have the right to be here-and to petition the return of their parents once they reach the age of 21. But this means the “break-up” of families, and that is primarily what local CNMI nonresidents are fighting over-but it didn't matter one whit in the States-did it?

Now that averages out to around 7,200 people from each and every state. If the USCIS can do that, on that scale, then I really don't think the few people in the CNMI who are asking for “special consideration” stand much of a chance-do they? If the law is to be applied without discrimination throughout the U.S., then those CNMI nonresidents who cannot or do not qualify under normal immigration pathways to remain, need to start planning for their future; a future that will probably send them (and their children) home-for now."

Dr. Thomas D. Arkle Jr.
San Jose, Tinian

Dr. Arkle is absolutely correct. The US is deporting parents and their CHILDREN by the droves. Of course, when the child is 18 they can return.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Arkle left out the most important point of that story, which is the fact that those being deported from the US are ILLEGAL aliens. This is a big factual deletion. There should be no confusion about illegal and legal aliens. The majority of the alien workforce in the CNMI is LEGAL.

ron hodges said...

To quote myself, "there is no comparison between legal contract guest workers in the NMI and illegals who crossed the border from Mexico".

Anonymous said...


lobbyists suck said...

Benitez was at the training to make a profit in some fashion down the road. Is he a hired CNMI lobbyist again? Could be. I would guess he is being paid by "private businesses" to lobby if he is. Talking to Siemer? Maybe he is helping them with their anti-fed plans.

The letter to the editor in the ST from Bill Fitzgerald defending Siemer and Willens was a joke. Clearly, Willens gets paid from taxpayers' money and is not a volunteer. Furthermore, all volunteers are not to be lauded. A person could volunteer to be a hit man, or volunteer to cause destruction. Likewise, to title yourself as a volunteer and work for a corrupt governor is not praiseworthy. Siemer is a schemer. What Siemer and Willens volunteer to do is to defend the anti-federalization agenda at the expense of innocent people. Does the title of volunteer allow them exemption from any illegal acts they conduct in a government office? Maybe that volunteer title is not a badge, but a shield.

Anonymous said...

One is not required to register as a lobbyist unless at least 20% of one's empoyment activities consist of lobbying.

Anonymous said...

What is wonderful about that letter anonymous?

Anonymous said...

To "Lobbyists suck..."

The training was a normal legal training on US family-based immigration. I don't know why Mr. Benitez came, but I doubt it was to make money...He seemed very knowledgeable already.

Interesting stuff, though, Wendy. Who would have guessed that such an influential man would come to a Karidat-MLSC conference on Saipan?

wendy said...

I think it is surprising too that he attended and curious at the same time. Is he influential? I thought of him more as infamous. I first heard his name through friends who write about the Abramoff scandal. From reading Jane's blog, it sounded like a very informative conference with expert speakers.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous who said,

"One is not required to register as a lobbyist unless at least 20% of one's employment activities consist of lobbying."

That's not entirely correct. Congressional rules state:
A “lobbyist” under the disclosure law is an organization’s employee who engages in lobbying (an “in-house” lobbyist), or is someone who works on his or her own or for a lobbying firm and is
retained by an organization or entity to lobby on its behalf (an “outside” lobbyist), who:
• makes more than one “lobbying contact,” and
• spends at least 20% of his or her total time for that employer or client on “lobbying activities” over a three-month period.

A “lobbying contact” is an oral or written communication to a covered official, including a
Member of Congress, congressional staff, and certain senior executive branch officials, with
respect to the formulation, modification or adoption of a federal law, rule, regulation or policy.
Thus, by definition, a “lobbying contact” involves a direct communication to policy and decision makers, and does not include indirect or “grass roots” lobbying activities,19 and does not include
behind-the-scenes support activities. The term “lobbying activities,” however, for which reporting
of expenditures must be made and for which the 20% of time threshold is applicable, is broader
than the meaning of “lobbying contacts,” and includes such “lobbying contacts” as well as
background activities and other efforts in support of those lobbying contacts.

Anonymous said...

I just realized--it looks like he's giving someone the finger in the photo...

Anonymous said...

Yes, it sure does. Maybe the photographer. The other man is turning away.

Anonymous said...

Or he is giving the finger to the speaker. who was talking when the photo was taken?

Anonymous said...

So what "clasification" does the Gov's "special assistant" that he sent to Wash. fall under?
Is she supposed to be registered?

Anonymous said...

Yes. The newspapers stated Lynn Knight would lobby on behalf of the gov. and get paid by private businesses. She already spoke to multiple congressional staffers and policy makers. She is a lobbyist.

Anonymous said...

Private funding for a non-registered agent of the CNMI that reports to the Governor and perhaps others, is pure corruption at its finest.

Anonymous said...

Pure corruption. Yes, that defines the system.

Anonymous said...

If Lynn Knight lobbying for the CNMI is "pure corruption," then what is Wendy lobbying against it?

Anonymous said...

Wendy lobbying for the disenfranchised indentured servants in the CNMI would be called humanitarianism. And she would be called a true "Volunteer" in that, NO ONE is paying her to speak out for those on these islands that have barriers to speaking out for themselves.

Lynn Knight getting paid by 14+ private companies and perhaps our government to lobby for the Governor's private interests is LOBBYING. And the fact that she has not filed as a LOBBYIST and has stated that she will not, is PURE CORRUPTION and is ILLEGAL and will be dealt with.

Anonymous said...

So does the difference between "humanitarianism" and "pure corruption" depend on: a) whether or not you're getting paid; or b) which side of the issue you're on?

Anonymous said...

No it depends on motives, whether or not you receive money for the actions, and if you are connected to criminals.

Anonymous said...

Whither D.C. Siemer, M.B. Kara, and P.S. Brown?

Anonymous said...

You can be a humanitarian and receive pay, but Knight is lobbying in Washington for someone who is a corrupt and selfish politician, and is being paid by a group of rich business owners that put her there to make sure the feds don't break down their corrupt system so they can get richer. That is not humanitarianism.

Anonymous said...

Who says he is corrupt? By comparison to Nekai he is clean as a whistle. Whatever he may have done decades ago, today Fitial is the epitome of rectitude.

And he is selflessly pouring out the remaining years of his life, despite ill health and intense suffering, for the sake of his people.

He and his supporters sound quite humanitarian to me.