Speaker Tenorio on Abramoff: "Purely Business"
















Jack Abramoff, former Governor Froilan Tenorio at ceremony with President Fidel Ramos in 1996. The trip was billed to the CNMI according to Abramoff-CNMI billing records.

January 24, 2010

Sometimes I wonder if people remember only what they want to remember. Today's Marianas Variety reports that Speaker Froilan Tenorio says that Jack Abramoff deserved the estimated $11 million that the CNMI paid for his lobbying services:
Former Gov. Froilan C. Tenorio, now the speaker of the 17th House of Representatives, reiterated that disgraced Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff deserved the millions of dollars he received from the CNMI government.

It was Tenorio who hired Abramoff 16 years ago.

From 1994 to 2001, Abramoff’s lobby firms were paid a total of $11 million by the commonwealth to prevent the U.S. Congress from federalizing local immigration.

“For me, he did the job that I hired him to do,” Tenorio said. “He blocked that legislation. He did the job because he had friends in the U.S. Congress.”
What a sickening statement considering that while he was depleting the CNMI coffers to fund this lobbyist, the dump was burning, public schools lacked funding, the infrastructure was strained and crumbling, and labor abuses were escalating.

Tenorio is correct in one thing. Abramoff was paid to block federalization and it was effectively blocked. What he didn't say was how he, Abramoff, Willie Tan, Tan's officer's Benigno Fitial and Eloy Inos, former AG Robert Dunlap, former PIO Mark Broadhurt, and others in his administration conspired with corrupt U.S. officials to use lies, manipulation of the truth and propaganda to achieve their goals. Their campaign that denied the existence of labor and human rights abuses and promoted a corrupt system perpetuated the abuses to the detriment of thousands of innocent guest workers.

The Variety quoted Tenorio:
Unlike Gov. Benigno R. Fitial who referred to Abramoff as his “close friend,” Tenorio said his dealings with the lobbyist were purely business, adding that he didn’t socialize with him.
Purely business! Didn't socialize? Seriously, does this man lack a memory? What about the October 1997 trip former Governor Froilan Tenorio took to the Mississippi Choctow tribe? And then there was the little perk of the Redskins game in Abramoff's skybox. Purely business, I'm sure.

How about the time that Abramoff arranged for former Governor Froilan Tenorio to trip over to the Philippines with him in December 1996? He went to get an "American Hero Award" from Abramoff's friend, Major F. Andy Messing, Jr., president of the Defense Council Foundation. According to 45 entries in the 1996 CNMI-Abramoff billing records, Abramoff arranged for the award to be given to the governor at the same time one was presented to Philippine President Ramos. Another Abramoff pal, Dr. Milton Copulus, the foundation chairman and a CNMI junket-taker, presented the awards. This was just one publicity stunt that was billed to the CNMI government. Purely business. Cha-ching!

Maybe Tenorio called it "business" because the CNMI government was billed for every one of the Abramoff-Tenorio events including the infamous New Year's Eve party with former Rep. Tom Delay(R-TX) and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher(R-CA) that was covered by ABC's 20-20.

What about the time former Governor Froilan Tenorio traveled to Hollywood to hang with his friend, Rep. Rohrabacher and Abramoff? Jack Abramoff was on island with Tenorio for a week before they headed to Hollywood. Strictly business, I'm sure.

Background
In 1995 Jack Abramoff was working as a lobbyist for Preston Gates Ellis Rouvelas and Meeds when he was hired by the CNMI government and then Governor Froilan Tenorio to block federalization of the minimum wage and immigration laws. The CNMI wanted to retain its local labor and immigration system that filled the pockets of a few powerful business owners and politicians at the expense of thousands of foreign contract workers.

Abramoff's lobbying plan was outlined in his pitch letter to former Governor Tenorio. He had several key strategies that he used to block reform legislation in the CNMI. They focused on denouncing advocates and truthful media (with outright lies), attacking or minimizing the abuse of victims (at a great expense to them), and promoting the CNMI's guest worker program as a model that exemplified all that was right with the free market system (another big lie). They worked against those fighting for reform of the dysfunctional CNMI labor and immigration system that promoted labor and human rights abuses, human trafficking with forced prostitution, and sweatshops. The Abramoff-CNMI army of federalization fighters consisted of members of congress, staffers, think tank followers and loyal media-types he lured to promote the agenda. They were rewarded with campaign donations, trips, positions, gifts, and money.

Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) became an outspoken propagandist for Abramoff's CNMI plan. If other congressmen were foot soldiers for Abramoff, then Rohrabacher was a five star general in the army of corrupt co-conspirators. Abramoff lined up his troops in Congress to defend his new client, the CNMI government. They included: Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), John Doolittle (R-CA), Bob Schaffer (R-CO), Tom Delay (R-TX), Ralph Hall (R-TX), Brian Bilbray (R-CA), Richard Pombo (R-CA), and Don Young (R-Alaska). Some of their staffers would later join the Abramoff lobbying team including Duane Gibson, Counsel for the House Resources Committee; Tony Rudy former congressional staffer for Dana Rohrabacher and Tom Delay; Kevin Ring, former staffer for John Doolittle, and Michael Scanlon, former staffer of Tom Delay.

Washington Meetings
In March 1996 Abramoff arranged for then CNMI Governor Froilan Tenorio and some of his key staff to connect with "his friends" in Washington, DC. The lobbyist set up meetings and dinners for them to hobnob with members of Congress and representatives from right-ring think tanks. Members of Congress like Dana Rohrabacher. The island delegation portrayed the CNMI as a "petri dish of capitalism", a “laboratory of liberty", and a "free market paradise." (Tenorio's attorney, Doug Muir claimed that he was the one who actually suggested those clever names.) They asked for help in promoting it as such to shift focus from well-documented, and much publicized labor and human rights abuses.

Following the Washington meetings, Abramoff''s think tank soldiers started pumping out propaganda in major newspapers like The Washington Times. The Abramoff Congressional soldiers, like Rohrabacher, spread the word in Congress and recruited more supporters. In July 1996 Abramoff sent a fax to Governor Tenorio that stated Rohrabacher's role in the scheme:
As a consequence of the postponement [of the hearing] we do not need to schedule a telephone call with Congressmen Royce and Rohrabacher for this week, rather, perhaps you and I could discuss the overall strategy and approach for Congressional hearings for the fall when I am in Saipan next week. After we set out strategy, we can move to get the discussion going with Congressmen Royce and Rohrabacher.

On a related note, Congressman Rohrabacher confirmed to me today he intends to bring a group of Congressmen to the CNMI in late December. I will discuss this with you next week, however, it is clear that word is spreading fast among the free market conservatives that the CNMI is a "laboratory of liberty."
Rohrabacher would lead the troops in portraying the CNMI as a "little experiment". As a result, the exploitative system that flourished at the expense of the foreign contract workers would continue without federal interference. It was an experiment for sure. An experiment in how long the federal government could be deceived, and how long they would ignore their responsibility to institute change.

1996 GOP Convention
Jack Abramoff, his loyal members of Congress, CNMI officials, right-wing think tank representatives, and garment magnates did not just connect in Washington and in the CNMI. The 1996 Republican Convention held in San Diego, California from August 12th to the 15th was another gathering place where friendships would be forged and seeds would be sown. Abramoff hosted Saipan garment magnate Willie Tan, his company executive, Benigno Fitial (former speaker of the CNMI House and present governor), and another Tan executive, Eloy Inos (current Secretary of Finance) at the convention. Willie Tan, owner of Tan Holdings also was an Abramoff client, and he was a labor violator. He was charged with the largest labor settlement with the U.S. Dept. of Labor in U.S. history. paying $9 million in back wages to cheated workers. He also paid $76,000 in OSHA violations and pledged $1.3 million in factory renovations. Over the years many more labor cases would be filed against the company, including a case filed against Tan Holdings by the EEOC.

It appears that the three CNMI visitors had a busy schedule at the GOP convention. Abramoff billed the CNMI for five days of meetings, meals, introductions to conservative members of Congress, and parties. Strategies were developed including plans to recruit still more potential CNMI-backers for junkets to the CNMI. From the billing records:
8/10/96 PP [Patrick Pizella] 2.70 Dinner meeting with W. Tan, E. Inos and B. Fitial re: CNMI issues—minimum wage , immigration and upcoming congressional elections and CNMI legislation; discussion re: upcoming trips of journalists and think tank representatives to CNMI and visits to Tan Holdings factory.
8/11/96 PP [Patrick Pizella] 4:30 Participate in event sponsored by Sen. Santorum's “FIGHT PAC” with W. Tan, E. Inos, B. Fitial and Senator Jim Jeffords (R-VT); follow-up luncheon/discussion with staff director of Senate Energy committee- G. Renkes; introduction of B. Fitial to Cong. Dan Burton (R-IN).
8/13/96 JA [Jack Abramoff] 4.00 Meetings at the Republican National Convention regarding Congressional Conservative Movement and Republican Party support for CNMI
8/13/96 JB [ Jonathan Blank ] 8:00 Meet with Saipan officials.
8/14/96 JA [Jack Abramoff] 4.00 Meetings at the Republican National Convention regarding Congressional Conservative Movement and Republican party support for CNMI
8/14/96 JA [Jack Abramoff] 8:00 Meet with Saipan officials.
8/15/96 JB [ Jonathan Blank ] 8:00 Meet with Saipan officials.
In exchange for all of the opportunities to network and gather support, John Pangelinian, Publisher of the Tan owned newspaper, The Saipan Tribune, made two $5,000 contributions to Santorum's Fight PAC in August 2006.

Another Abramoff and Rohrabacher friend at the GOP Convention who would become an essential thread in the scandal was Rabbi David Lapin. He gave the benediction at the convention's Tuesday night session. Dana Rohrabacher referred to Lapin as "my rabbi." Abramoff would help Lapin land a $1.2 million no-bid contract from Governor Froilan Tenorio to promote "ethics in government." More troubling is that here is no evidence that Lapin ever produced anything to earn the money according to the New York Times.

The strategy of connecting the CNMI trio with the Republican Conservative Movement was also mentioned in the billing records. One of the conservative groups pushing their values agenda at the convention was the Christian Coalition led by another long-time Abramoff friend, Executive Director, Ralph Reed. He too would become a friend of the CNMI. The Washington Post relates that in 1999 Reed's firm sent out a mailer to Alabama Christian conservatives asking them to call then-Rep. Bob Riley (R-Ala.) and tell him to vote against legislation that would have federalized the CNMI's federal wage and immigration laws.

Representing the religious right at the convention was another Abramoff-Rohrabacher friend, Lou Sheldon. He heads the Traditional Values Coalition, which has recently been labeled as a hate group by the Southern Law Poverty Center. Sheldon and his daughter Andrea Sheldon Lafferty, would become prominent defenders of the CNMI agenda taking junkets, trashing advocates and victims, and planting favorable press releases for Abramoff.

Let's not forget Abramoff-Rohrabacher friend, Grover Norquist of the Heritage Foundation and Americans for Tax Reform who sat on the 1996 Republican Platform Committee. Both groups would send representatives on CNMI junkets and both groups would join the troops to uphold the CNMI agenda. Heritage Foundation's Daniel Mitchell wrote a piece for the Washington Times, "The Modern Siege of Saipan" while Americans for Tax Reform's Executive Director Audrey Helen Mullen led a five member delegation of conservative think tank representatives on a November 1996 junket to the CNMI. Mullen's praise followed the strategy and like the other recruits, she parroted the buzz words:
"Governor Tenorio's support and leadership in carrying out these reforms should make him a hero to all those who advocate free markets."
At $275 - $360 per hour the CNMI taxpayers paid over $10,000 for the CNMI garment executives to network with Abramoff, his favored conservative groups, and congressional pals while partying, dining, and attend strategy meetings. The cost is especially obscene when one considers that the island's infrastructure was crumbling as millions were drained from the government coffers to pay for lobbyists.

Junkets to the CNMI
What better way to build support than to take co-conspirators and potential recruits on all-expenses paid trips to the Northern Marianas? The Abramoff junkets started in 1995 when Froilan Tenorio was governor. Travelers were treated to a tropical stay at the luxurious beach-side Hyatt. After attending a few meetings and taking the tour of the sanitized Tan garment factory, the visitors would have opportunities to golf, snorkel, tour the island, and party. Abramoff arranged over 100 such trips to the CNMI under the guise of "fact-finding" missions. Dana Rohrabacher was one of the U.S. congressmen to accept a junket to Saipan as this December 1996 email to the governor's administrative officer, Herman Guerrero, details:
I look forward to seeing you when I return with the Congressmen at the end of the month. I hope you will have some time to meet some of them for dinner or lunch. I think you will find them extraordinary people and (especially Rohrabacher) a lot of fun. Thanks again. Kindest regards, Jack
According to reports, Rohrabacher didn't disappoint; he was indeed fun. On December 29, 1996 Rohrabacher and his fiancĂ©e, Rhoda joined Tom Delay(R-TX), John Duncan (R-TN), Brian Billbray (R-CA), Ralph Hall (R-TX), the members' wives and some Congressional staffers for a holiday jaunt to Saipan. They celebrated the New Year with Governor Froilan Tenorio and some big wigs affiliated with the garment industry at a party hosted by Willie Tan. One person who attended a New Year’s Eve Party alleged that Rohrabacher was roaring drunk and people worried that he would fall into the pool.

Purely business, I'm sure.

The media was blocked from attending the party as this January 5, 1997 Marianas Variety article detailed:
Despite the significance of Delay's visit, the Office of the Governor's public information and protocol office (PIPO) imposed a "no media allowed" policy and local reporters who managed to get into one of the congressman's "closed door" meetings were told to leave as a Variety reporter found out.
However not all reporters we "kept out."
After informing the Variety that members of the media were not allowed to cover a Tan Holdings dinner reception for Delay last December 28, PIPIO apparently exempted a reporter of a newspaper owned by the garment magnate, Willy Tan from the "gag rule."
The Variety was also told that the press was not allowed to tag along Delay during his meetings with the Labor and Immigration Department, garment manufacturers and garment workers.
But the New Year's Eve party was documented by a human rights advocate posing as a garment buyer who filmed it undercover catching Tom Delay's speech which, of course, praised the CNMI and Governor Tenorio, as CNN reported:
"You are a shining light for what is happening in the Republican Party, and you represent everything that is good about what we're trying to do in America in leading the world in the free-market system."
Inside Edition, and ABC's 20/20 would air scathing exposes revealing the questionable junkets, adding to an avalanche of media stories that covered both the trips and the labor abuses. The junkets were intended to get the travelers to diffuse the issue of human trafficking and labor and human rights abuses, but they just highlighted them. More and more federal officials, advocates, journalists, and citizens began questioning the ethics and legality of the trips, and began examining the situation in the CNMI.

My differences with Rohrabacher were exposed in a February 1997 Washington Post article:
Explaining why he made the trip, Rohrabacher said on his return, "There are a lot of Pacific issues that are important to my district. I border right on the ocean."
He and other visiting members of Congress praised the CNMI's approach to immigration and its "business-friendly" atmosphere. They "met lots of guest workers," including three young Chinese women at a garment factory barracks, and "all seemed to be very happy," Rohrabacher said.
Despite the local government's claims to have cracked down, a department official said, "there are still widespread abuses of overseas contract workers in the CNMI," notably in the garment industry. The factories use the commonwealth to produce clothes that carry "Made in U.S.A." labels and are shipped to the U.S. market without customs duties or quotas.
Wendy Doromal, a schoolteacher who was forced to flee the islands amid death threats after she exposed labor and human rights abuses against guest workers there, warned in a letter to Clinton last month that letting the CNMI keep control of immigration and the minimum wage would be "a dangerous mistake." She called for a stronger federal presence.
"How can we, as Americans who denounce human rights abuses all over the world, remain silent when such human rights abuses are occurring on our own soil?" she asked.
Undaunted, the CNMI plans to invite dozens more members of Congress out to the islands this year and to shift its focus to the Senate. Broadhurst said.
The 1996 junket raised serious concerns. I wanted to know who funded the trip, suspecting that Willy Tan or Abramoff’s lobbying team from the Preston Gates firm paid for the junkets. An email sent to Jack Abramoff from then Governor Tenorio's administrative assistant, Herman Guerrero revealed there were questions about the travelers' expenses. Another email from a Preston Gates travel agent states that Abramoff used his credit card to pay for the trips. I sent a certified return receipt letter to Rohrabacher on January 8, 1997 asking for answers. He did not respond.

I also sent letters to the other junket participants including Dick Armey (R-TX), Phil Crane (R-IL), Tom Delay (R-TX), Brian Billbray (R-CA), Gil Gutknecht, Jr. (R-WI), and John Duncan (R-CA). John Duncan was one of the few members of Congress who replied. He sent this revealing letter to me. I was amazed by these lines from the congressman:
I went to the Northern Marianas primarily because I am on the Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over U.S. Territories, and also because I had doubts about this delegate issue. I felt this trip would be an opportunity for me to learn more about this area.

AIso, I went at the request of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, of California, with whom I came to Congress several years ago. He is a close friend of mine, and he has done things for me, and I did this in part for him.
Yes, Dana Rohrabacher was a good recruiter. Interesting, but still I had no answer to my questions so I also sent a letter to the House Ethics Committee's Chair, Congresswoman Nancy Johnson. It was ignored. I also sent a letter to House Office of the Clerk as instructed in a letter I received from Dick Army. I sent a letter to the Legislative Resource Center as directed by another letter I received from the Office of the General Counsel. It said in part:
The Freedom of Information Act applies only to agencies of the United States as defined therein. The Congress is specifically excluded from the definition of an agency. 5 U.S.C. 55 1a( 1). The reasons for this exclusion of Congress from the Act include issues of separation of powers and constitutional immunities of Congress from outside questioning and interference.
Accordingly, Representative Gutknecht is not subject to the Freedom of lnformation Act. However, his office has asked me to make you aware that much of the information you seek may be available from the Legislative Resource Center of the House of Representatives.
I never did receive answers to the questions that I had sent, but it appears from Abramoff's billing records that it was the CNMI taxpayers who paid for the trips. Apparently Speaker Tenorio thinks it was money well spent. Golfing, jet-skiing, para-sailing are all activities that are purely business, I'm sure.

At least one Republican congressman refused to go on a junket. Rep. William J. Tauzin (R-LA) decided not to go. The Marianas Variety covered the story in February 1998:
Tauzin's press secretary, Ken Johnson, told the New York Times that previous "fact-finding" trips by congressional staff members did not actually give them a picture of what's really happening in the CNMI. Johnson said staff members who had come to the commonwealth upon invitation of the local government, "were shielded from seeing and talking to people who would be able to shed light on what is happening" in the islands.
"You're going to see what they want you to see," Johnson was quoted as saying. "You can't make a decision here in Washington that affects the Northern Marianas with your head stuck in the sand."
That statement said what I had been saying about the CNMI junkets - that those who accepted the trips would see what the Abramoff-CNMI-Tenorio team wanted them to see.

But someone would nail it as far as the junkets and junket-takers. In October 1997, Rep. George Miller (D-CA) sent a letter to the editor of The Washington Post.
Where on American soil would congressional leaders excuse policies that exploit thousands of women except in the most remote territory in the Western Pacific, the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands? ("Northern Marianas: Not a Workers' Paradise," October 14, 1997) Republicans leaders like Dick Armey, Tom Delay and Dana Rohrabacher dismiss widespread evidence of worker mistreatment by asserting that the employees in the Marianas are treated better than had they remained in China and other underdeveloped nations that, unlike the Marianas, are not part of the United States. That is a novel and horrifying definition of what constitutes acceptable labor practices.
Despite highly credible reports of widespread and continuing abuses in the Marianas' garment industry -- from the Clinton Administration, the local and international media, numerous human rights and labor rights organizations, the House Resources Committee staff among others Gov. Tenorio blusters his defense of his current policies and House Republicans have refused to conduct even a preliminary hearing on the scandal.
Instead of investing in enhanced labor and civil rights enforcement, Tenorio has spent far in excess of a million dollars in his junket campaign to bring Members of Congress and their staffs to the Marianas and by hiring high-priced Washington lobbyists to cuddle up to his apologists in Congress, How much he has spent will surely be a key topic whenever hearings are finally scheduled.
No member of Congress would tolerate in his or her own congressional district a fraction of the abuse reported in the CNMI. whether it was good for economic development or not, and congratulations are due GOP senator Murkowski for saying so. Gov. Tenorio has spit in the eye of the Congress, and Republican leaders are thanking him for it and providing him political cover while citing his "economic miracle" to promote their own crusade against the minimum wage and other labor safeguards.
CNMI-Hollywood Connections
On February 9, 1997, Governor Froilan Tenorio joined his n"business partners" Dana Rohrabacher and Jack Abramoff in Hollywood to speak before the Associated Film Commissioners International to announce the opening of a film office in the CNMI. Billing records indicate that Abramoff arranged the trip and traveled to Los Angeles to join the festivities:
02/09/97 JA 8.00 ' Travel to L. A. reception for Governor
Tenorio
An article in the February 11, 1997 Marianas Variety reported:
While in Los Angeles, the governor on Saturday was given a dinner reception by Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-California).
Rohrabacher, who recently visited the CNMI, helped Tenorio arrange meetings with Hollywood producers, Broadhurst said.
What the article did not say is that this was all done on taxpayers' dollars and Abramoff billed the CNMI for 8 hours. Cha-ching.

More Trips To Washington
In March 1997, Governor Tenorio, his wife, and CNMI officials Brenda Tenorio and David Ecret took another trip to Washington on taxpayer's dollars. On March 5, 1997 Dana Rohrabacher held a reception for them in the Rayburn Building. Grover Norquist of Americans also treated the group to a reception for Tax Reform.

In October 1997 Tenorio traveled again to meet with Abramoff's army in the Congress including former Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-GA), Don Young (R-Alaska), former Rep. Tom Delay (R-TX), former Rep. Dick Army (R-TX), the late Rep. Jesse Helms (R-NC), and, of course, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher. During this trip Abramoff arranged for Governor Tenorio, his wife, David Ecret (the governor's special assistant for telecommunications and utilities) and the rest of his party to travel to Mississippi to meet with the Choctaw Indians. Billing records indicate that they were in Mississippi for three days.

Once back in Baltimore/Washington, billing records indicate the trip including attending "a game" where the CNMI visitors were "introduced to guests." (Red Skins vs. Dallas Cowboys)

Purely business, I'm sure.

Manipulating the Media
One of the A-team's strategies in defending the CNMI's dysfunctional labor and immigration system was to plant stories in major newspapers and periodicals portraying the CNMI's guest worker program as a model that should be hands off for federal intervention. Some of newspaper columnists and writers bribed by junkets to write positive articles included: Doug Bandow from the Cato Institute, Don Feder a conservative columnist, L. Brent Bozell, Chairman of the Media Research Center, Marlo Lewis of Competitive Enterprise Institute, Daniel Mitchell of the Heritage Institute, Peter Flaherty, President of the National Legal and Policy Center, Helle Bering-Jensen, deputy editor of the editorial page of the Washington Times, Clint Bolick of the Institute for Justice, and David Dickson for the Washington Times.

Doug Bandow from the Cato Institute and Peter Ferrara from Americans for Tax Reform were accused of taking payments from lobbyist Jack Abramoff in exchange for pro-CNMI op-ed stories that ran in the Washington Times and other papers. Clint Bolick wrote pro-CNMI pieces for the Wall Street Journal and Human Events. Helle Bering-Jensen, deputy editorial page editor of the Washington Times returned from Saipan and wrote a positive editorial as did David Dickson. I actually called the Washington Times and talked to one of the junket-takers in 1997 asking them if they would like documentation, reports and correspondence from guest workers to show another side of the CNMI. He was not interested.

It has been suggested that CNMI columnists Charles Reyes and John DelRosario may have been paid for their regular anti-Stayman, anti-federalization, anti-advocate columns too. (In fact Charles Reyes, who was the PIO for Governor Fitial, is mentioned in the billing records.)

Another person who wrote often and spoke often on behalf of the CNMI was not a journalist or member of a think-tank, but was Congressman Dana Rohrabacher. The former Reagan speechwriter wrote letters to the editor, newspaper articles, floor speeches, and "Dear Colleague" letters to support the agenda of Governor Tenorio and defend his pal Jack Abramoff.

The Tenorio Administration and Jack Abramoff went over the deep end when they learned that Reader’s Digest was interviewing me for a story on the abuses in the CNMI. The story threatened to bring world-wide attention to the abuses happening under the U.S. flag. The author, Henry Hurt traveled to Florida to interview me and to the CNMI to conduct extensive interviews with guest workers, advocates, and CNMI and US officials. The story, Shame on American Soil was to be published in June 1997, but billing records show that Abramoff had a pal working within the Digest and received an advance copy.

The lobbyist joined the CNMI government in a strategy to denounce the advocates, defame the author, and minimize or deny the abuses of the victims. They were so obsessed with the story that billing records for 1997 show that the lobbying firm billed for hundreds of hours in damage control for that one story costing the CNMI taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars. It would have been more cost effective to do the right thing and stop the problem instead of always focusing on damage control.

Congressman Rohrabacher had a prominent role in leading the Reader's Digest attack. The Washington Times printed the entire Reader's Digest story on June 20, 1997. Soon afterwards Congressman Rohrabacher sent a letter to the editor denouncing the article and claiming that “The Northern Marianas are a land of opportunity.” Among his lies were these words:
It [Readers Digest story] paints a hideously false picture of the general situation there.
Rohrabacher, Tenorio and Abramoff were wrong to support a corrupt system that regards indentured guest workers as disposable commodities, rather than as future citizens. Federalization was not just a political issue; it was a moral issue.

I responded to the Congressman's letter with a letter to the editor that was published on July 19, 1997. My remarks included these:
More than 100 congressional staffers, members of Congress, think-tank members and media personnel have enjoyed trips to the CNMI since 1996. Almost all of them were paid for by the CNMI government with mystery funds that have not been appropriated by the CNMI legislature. In fact, the CNMI government has not released information about the origin of the funds.
Mr. Rohrabacher, one of those who participated in a trip, appears to be a victim of hideous distortion –a whitewash by the CNMI government. He claims, “The key to success has been a rejection of dependency on handouts from Washington and an emphasis on encouraging enterprise.”

The commonwealth has received more than $1 billion from the federal government since 1975 when the covenant was approved. Surely this cannot be seen as a rejection of Washington dollars. The CNMI economy is based on the exploitation of foreign contract workers who make up a majority of the population in the CNMI, pay taxes and cannot vote or serve on juries. While a majority of locals with power and money benefit financially, the unemployment rate of the local population is 14 percent.

Mr. Rohrabacher claims that thousands of foreign contract workers return to their homelands with a couple thousand dollars in their pockets. I would like to see documentation of this ridiculous claim. For the decade I spent in the islands, I witnessed thousands of workers struggling as indentured servants trying to cope with the deductions taken from their pay for recruitment fees. I met few who returned home with even a small amount of money and far more who returned destitute and with broken dreams…

Hundred of foreign contract workers who left their homelands and families for an opportunity to witness democracy and partake in the American dream have become victims on US soil this year alone. The abuses taking place in the CNMI are a disgrace to all Americans, the democratic and humanitarian beliefs that we cherish, and to all that America represents.
Rohrabacher responded with another letter on July 29, 1997. I considered the letter’s closing as a personal attack on me:
I appreciate that Miss Doromal may well have a good heart. But if she doesn’t get her benevolence under control, she might hurt somebody.
It was not me who would be responsible for hurting anyone. It was Abramoff and his anti-federalization army including Tenorio and Rohrabacher who would inflict major harm on the guest workers of the CNMI. By effectively blocking legislation, they perpetuated the abuses and suffering of many workers for years and years and for additional new workers who could have been spared had legislation passed. Corruption bears a human cost. It bears a financial cost for taxpayers. It bears a moral cost for our country. Of course, it was purely business, according to Tenorio.

Dear Colleague Letters
The Abramoff–Tenorio-CNMI team hired the Hay Group to issue a bogus economic study to prove that increasing the minimum wage would have “a devastating effect on the CNMI economy.” In September 1996, Tenorio contracted the Hay Group under a sole source contract paying them $178,000.00 to write the report. The "findings” were then promoted like it was an independent research study. Billing records show that Abramoff team consulted with Hay group officials dozens of times in 1996.

Dana Rohrabacher joined fellow junket-taker and Abramoff soldier, Ralph Hall (R-TX) to promote the spurious Hay report. They sent a Dear Colleague Letter denouncing "federal interference" in the CNMI's minimum wage and immigration issues. The letter was untruthful as this paragraph illustrates:
In the interest of sharing unbiased data with our colleagues who may have to make decisions affecting all the people of the CNMI we are providing you a copy of the executive summary of the Hay Group report. Their analysis shows that, not, only will raising the minimum wage cause real harm to the local economy, "it will not accomplish the economic and social objectives which proponents of minimum wage increases in the CNMI claim will occur."
As billings records show, the CNMI taxpayers paid tens of thousands of dollars for Abramoff team meetings with the Hay Group to prepare the report and the media reports announcing its release. It was a sham. It was part of the lobbying strategy that inflicted harm upon the foreign contract workers and the local people who earned the minimum wage, which was $3.05 an hour.

Floor Speeches
In September 1997, Rohrabacher made a speech on the floor of the U.S. House denouncing the words of Representatives George Miller (D-CA), Patsy Mink (D-HI) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) who told the truth about the situation in the islands. They condemned the abuses and backed legislative reform. Billing records indicate that the Abramoff team worked on Rohrabacher's remarks. Rohrabacher ranted against Miller saying:
Wednesday evening, my colleague from California, Mr. Miller, resumed his nonstop, politically driven attack on the government and people of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The gentleman’s remarks and accusations, along with those of Mrs. Mink and Ms. DeLauro are simply untrue and need to be clarified.
He continued to rage against the Reader's Digest and a recent Inside Edition story that also exposed unforgivable abuses. The most shameful part of his speech was his statement about “Katrina”, a 16-year-old human trafficking victim who was turned into a sex-slave when she was 14. She was repeatedly sexually abused in a sleazy Saipan club. Rohrabacher said:
I would like to address one final concern raised by my friend in Hawaii, Mrs. Mink. It is in regards to the 16-year-old girl in Hawaii now awaiting resolution of her complaint against a Filipino nightclub owner who hired her to dance nude in his club. Sadly, stories like these are reported all too often in the media today. Incidentally, the Washington Post just ran a similar story in its late August about a Virginia man who pleaded guilty to the importation of teen prostitutes from Canada to work in the streets of our nation's Capital. Stories like these put the situation in the CNMI into perspective.
Minimizing the devastation of a girl recruited at age 14 to work as a waitress and then was forced to dance nude and perform lewd sex acts on stage is despicable. The CNMI sex trafficking trade is huge when comparing the population of the CNMI to other countries including the United States. The U.S. Department of Justice declared the CNMI as a sex trafficking hot spot in May 2008. We owe that growth in part to obstructionists like Rohrabacher, Tenorio and Abramoff. They can also be credited with contributing to perpetuating the suffering of innocent minors and women.

I know "Katrina" personally and helped to fight for her to get asylum. Thanks should be given to U.S. Labor Attorney Faye Von Wrangel (a true hero), the late Rep. Patsy Mink (D-HI), Senator Daniel Akaka(D-HI), and Rep. George Miller(D-CA) for fighting for this child to obtain asylum and a chance to provide an opportunity for her to erase her American nightmare.

My Filipino husband translated for this child when she testified at the U.S. Senate hearing in March 1998. He said it was one of the hardest things he ever did in his life. To hear the words of a child from his country who suffered horrific abuses on U.S. soil, and then was mocked by members of the U.S. Congress was shocking and heart breaking. Her story was also dismissed and minimized by lobbyists, the governor of the CNMI, and in planted media stories in the CNMI. They should read her written testimony and explain how they could minimize her abuses that were suffered on U.S. soil.

"Katrinia" took the "V.I.P. list" from that club when she left. It is a list of names of the club's regular customers with their phone numbers. We crosschecked the numbers to identify the customers when last names were omitted. We found that many of the phone numbers were CNMI government offices, as many of club's customers were high level CNMI officials.

On February 8, 2007, I attended the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Hearing concerning immigration issues in CNMI. I was struck as Kyleen, a young Filipina woman, testified that she was a victim of human trafficking for Saipan’s sex trade. Her heart-wrenching testimony reminded me of another testimony from the 1998 Senate Hearing. At that hearing, a young 16-year-old Filipina girl, "Katrina", testified to the same horrific story. Would Kyleen have been testifying if Congress had acted then? Would "Katrina" have been testifying if Congress had acted in 1995 when I testified to the same story on behalf of dozens of other trafficked young women?

So yes, Speaker Tenorio is correct. The millions spent on hiring Jack Abramoff to block federalization did effectively block it. Why on earth would anyone want to brag about that?

Reprinted at The Orange Juice Blog

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

The US has never touched Fitial, Tenerio, or Tan. Fitial is Governor, Tenorio the Speaker, and DHS and all the US government agencies coddle them now and theymeaning US officals) have all been to the Governors mansion and on the Abramoff tour.

The US keeps agents at Palms Resort, an UMDA company, at the Governors request. DHS and US immigration lease Tans new building in Garapan at the Governors request.

Anonymous said...

Your mention of "former Rep." Jesse Helms (R-NC) should be to "the late Sen."

As for "Katrina," the desire of activists and politicians to create a press icon to justify, promote, and expedite their ill-considered immigration and wage federalization and attack on the CNMI garment industry resulted in a miscarriage of justice.

At the Congressional hearing you mentioned, she testified inconsistently with her prior statements. Under the law, these inconsistencies would be subject to mandatory disclosure to the criminal defense lawyers of her abuser, if he were prosecuted. These would have torpedoed the case in front of a jury, essentially rendering the abuse non-prosecutable and allowing the evil man to walk.

This shows that political advocacy and justice are not necessarily aligned, and that well-intentioned efforts of the former can be detrimental to the latter.

You can have a lot of outrage, and perhaps some political success, but is the short term benefit worth it if justice is not done in the particular case?

If the activists and political showboats like George Miller had just held their fire, you could have had a conviction, jail sentence, and then the results you originally sought. Instead you had to wait a decade for reform.

History is repeating itself with the massage Fitial received. The federal criminal justice system works well -- if we let it.

Jay said...

I was stunned to see the Speaker's assertion.

Stunned because of the knowledge of what he presided over and furthered.

I commend your recounting and can only hope greater accountability and scrutiny will come to this former Governor.

At the beginning of the 17th Legislature, he has already shown a baffling inability to hold his tongue.

Wendy said...

Anonymous 12:26:

Katrina was a victim of human trafficking and had absolutely nothing to do with the garment industry. She was trafficked for the sex trade. She was not promoted as a press icon. Trafficking a child of 14 to perform lewd sex acts on stage is unforgivable. The fact that the governor, Abramoff and anti-fed supporters tried to minimize her treatment and plight is what created the press and public outrage.

She did not testify inconsistently and she was a child when she testified. Did you read her deposition? I have a copy of it and it is consistent with her testimony. Your ignorance of the case is astounding and the fact that you speak like you know what you are talking about is too!

What are you talking about when you say, "If the activists and political showboats like George Miller had just held their fire, you could have had a conviction, jail sentence, and then the results you originally sought. Instead you had to wait a decade for reform." HUH?

Anonymous said...

Whoa! This is startling. Doesn't Lang know that he left a trail of damning evidence? Haven't people been indicted for taking trips and tickets from Jack? The speaker would be wise not to speak.

Anonymous said...

I invite those that helped prosecute Abramoff and Delay to the CNMI to finish the job and dethrone Fitial and Froilan (among other crooks)!

lawnchair lawyer said...

Statue of Limitations,baby!
Can't touch em now.The money is all tucked away.
Let's see Lang slither for the next 5 years.

Anonymous said...

I was shocked and disgusted when I read the contents of the "Katrina" letter. The scumbags who were responsible for bringing her to Saipan and treating her in such an inhumane fashion should rot in hell!

If any public officials names appeared in the VIP Guest Book, their names should be made public.They deserve a little public humiliation.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:25 is misinformed.

IF agents stay at the Palms, it's because they choose to do so individually. Nobody cares where the governor wants them to stay.

DHS ICE and Immigration offices are in Marina Heights, owned by Efrain Camacho, certainly not at the governor's request.

USCIS has an office in Tan's new building because GSA found it most suitable due to location, size, cost, etc. GSA doesn't care what buildings the governor recommends.

Anonymous said...

Wendy

The Feds are treated very well when they travel on junkets. So what if Abramoff golfed or snorkeled here? If you traveled to Bali on a business trip would you do some sight seeing?

There are an equal number of ultralibdems in office and not who are just as "guilty" as Republicans.

Wendy said...

Anonymous 9:13 I don't care if a member of Congress, a staffer or a federal official is a Republican or Democratic it's not okay by me to pay for junkets with taxpayers' money. They can snorkel and golf on their own dime, not mine. If an official goes on an official trip, has free time and spends his/her own money on leisure activities, fine.

Greedy lobbyists have hijacked our democratic system and something has to be done to stop the madness. Abramoff's out-of-control money grabbing, unethical, corruption should have served as a wake up call, yet the lobbyists continue to be shadow legislators. This needs to end!

Business Author said...

I was also shocked and disgusted when I read the contents of the "Katrina" letter. The scumbags who were responsible for bringing her to Saipan and treating her in such an inhumane fashion should rot in hell!

Anonymous said...

A trip to a U.S. territory is not a "junket". Those who think so are disdainful of the rights of the U.S. citizens residing there.

Wendy said...

Anonymous 6:02

Definition of junket: a trip taken by an official at public expense

Seriously, you do not know why the officials on the Abramoff junkets were brought to the CNMI? Read the Secret Memo that outlines the agenda of Abramoff and the CNMI.

Any distain was created by Abramoff, the officials who took the trips, and the CNMI officials who funded them to push their anti-fed agendas.