Garment Worker's Trust Fund: Conflict of Interest

February 2, 2010

Federal Ombudsman Pam Brown tells it like it is and that's just what she did in responding to questions from the Saipan Tribune regarding the GWTF and the snarky comment made by Attorney Tim Bellas in a previous Saipan Tribune article, Where did $20 million go? In the article attorney Timothy Bellas appeared to be singling out the ombudsman by stating that she received $240,000 of the $20 million settlement as attorneys fees. The paper stated:

“How much their lawyers got? Their lawyers got millions of dollars worth of legal fees. That's where the money went,” Bellas said.

Bellas said he was not involved in the class action, but that his recollection from the pleadings is that the lawyers representing the garment workers got almost $8 million. Bellas said a lawyer told him that Brown got $240,000 as one of the workers' then local counsels.

As I wrote in a previous post, considering that most attorneys earn an average of one-third of the total settlement, that is not a large fee. Attorney Brown pointed out that she was one of the persons on the ground defending the former garment workers, gathering evidence and working for the settlement.

From the Saipan Tribune:
Former judge Timothy Bellas pulled down over $200,000 per year in the Garment Oversight Board job that he has held since 2006, according to Federal Ombudsman Pamela Brown.

“Bellas acts as the attorney for the [Garment Workers Trust Fund] and sits on the Garment Oversight Board-can you spell conflict of interest?” Brown told Saipan Tribune in an e-mail.

She said the composition and compensation of the GOB is a matter of public record.

The federal ombudsman issued the statement in response to Bellas' disclosure that the lawyers representing former garment factory workers in the class lawsuit against the garment industry received $8 million in attorneys' fees.
Attorney Brown stated that Bellas collected about $200,000 a year in his Garment Oversight Board job that he has held since 2006. Bellas claims it was $120,000 a year, which still means he would have collected $360,000 since 2006.

Attorney Brown questioned, “Why do you think there was a settlement? The kind hearts of the garment manufacturers?”

Attorney Brown is absolutely correct. The CNMI government, the Saipan Garment Manufacturers Association, and even Jack Abramoff opposed the lawsuit. The CNMI was billed tens of thousands of dollars by Abramoff's lobbying firm to trash and discredit the law firm, attorneys, the guest workers and their advocates.

When Abramoff's deputy, lobbyist Kevin Ring was indicted a great deal of evidence about the Abramoff-CNMI-garment schemes came to light. Before joinng Team-Abramoff, Ring was a key staffer for CNMI-loyalist former Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA).

At the Kevin Ring trial held in September 2009, ex-lobbyist Todd Boulanger described the attack on Chie Abad, one of the former garment workers and union organizers at Sako who I met and interviewed in 1998.

From the trial's transcript (emphasis added):
Q Good morning, Mr. Boulanger.
A Good morning.
Q When we concluded yesterday, you had mentioned some offices that Mr. Ring focused his efforts on, one of which was Representative Doolittle?
A Correct.
Q I want to talk about Representative Doolittle's office a little bit this morning.
Let's take a look to start at Government's Exhibit Number 300. If we could blow that whole thing up? Thank you. Would you read Mr. Ring's January 3rd, 2000 e-mail to Mr. Abramoff, subject, Carmencita letter. And if you would read it slowly please, sir?
A "Dennis told me you liked the idea of getting a letter to the INS regarding Carmencita's immigration status. Here is the letter we put together. It's very straightforward. I already talked to Doolittle's office about sending it and think we have a green light. Dennis suggested that I run it by Dewayne Gibson as well. Let me know what you think."
Q Who is Carmencita?
A Carmencita Abad had worked in the Marianas Islands and had spent some time up on Capitol Hill and in the press bashing the Marianas Islands as sweatshops.
Q And Mr. Abramoff forwards the e-mail to Willie Tan. Who is Willie Tan?
A Willie Tan was an owner of most, I believe most of the garment manufacturers in the Marianas.
Q So, was Carmencita Abad an enemy of Willie Tan?
A Yes.
Q Before we turn the page, who is Dennis?
A I believe it's referring to Dennis Stephens who worked with us at Preston Gates.
Q Take a look at the second page. If we could blow up the text of that. So what is this?
A That looks like a draft letter to the commissioner of INS from Congressman Doolittle.
Q What exactly did Mr. Ring want Representative Doolittle to do?
MR. WISE: Objection, speculation.
MR. FERRARA: Well, it's in the -- sorry. Referring to this letter.
Q What is the exhibit, summarizing it, without having --
A To question the immigration status of Carmencita Abad.
Q What does that mean?
A We wanted to put some noise out there, for lack of a better term, about whether or not she should be within the United States, what was her status. And, quite frankly, to make her life difficult.
Q Why did the team want to do that?
A Because she was attacking our client.
Q Let's take a look at 301.
THE COURT: That was 300?
MR. FERRARA: Correct, Your Honor.
Q Can you go ahead and read Mr. Ring's January 4, 2004 e-mail to Mr. Abramoff and Dennis Stephens?
A "Doolittle's letter to INS was just mailed. Will keep you posted on a response."
Q Mr. Abramoff responds, "Can we get a copy? Can you have it faxed to me in Saipan, give to Susan, thanks." Who is Susan?
A That was Susan Ralston, who was Jack's executive assistant.
Q And what is Saipan?
A Saipan is the capital of the Marianas archipelago.
The questioning continued identifying more former members of Congress and their staff members who were involved in the scheme to discredit a witness in this case. The staff members were rewarded with tickets to concerts and sports events. For his support, former Rep. Doolittle (R-CA) was rewarded with a cushy job for his wife, Julie Doolittle.

In August 2009 the U.S. attorneys submitted the Government's Notice of Filing Fourth Preliminary Witness List accompanied by a 61-page list of exhibits that they request to present at the trial. Within some of the emails listed are names of members of the U.S. Congress, many of whom took junkets to the CNMI and became friends of Governor Fitial and Willie Tan. As CNMI-Abramoff billing records show, they would carry out the CNMI-Abramoff game plan blocking legislation concerning minimum wage and federalization of labor and immigration. That "secret memo" between Ben Fitial, Willie Tan, Eloy Inos, and Abramoff outlines the scheme that congressional members like Doolittle and staffers like Kevin Ring would take starring roles.

Members of Congress mentioned in the emails include former Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA), Former Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA), former Rep. Tom Delay (R-TX), Former Rep. Dick Armey (R-TX), former Rep. Ernest Istook (R-OK), former Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-IL), former Rep. John Sweeney (R-NY), former Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss) and Senator Kit Bond (R-MO). (For a complete list that include which exhibit that each congressional member is connected with visit the Anti Corruption Republican.)

Most interesting are those individuals from the CNMI who are mentioned: Fitial, Tan, Pierce, and former foreign contract worker-turned labor rights advocate, Carmencita Abad.

The following are some of the exhibits referring to the CNMI:
Exhibit 300 1/3/2000 Email from Abramoff to Tan, "FW: carmencita letter" AND attachments.
Exhibit 301 1/6/2000 Email from Abramoff to Ring, "RE carmencita letter"
Exhibit 302 1/15/2000 Email from Abramoff to Fitial, "FW: Thanks"
Exhibit 305 2/2/2000 Email from Abramoff to Ring, "RE: letter re: Carmencita"
Exhibit 305 6/11/2001 Email from Abramoff to Ring RE: "bad news on cnmi approps"
Exhibit 353 6/27/2001 Email from Abramoff to Ring FW: CNMI Energy and Water"
Exhibit 355 7/24/2001 Email from Abramoff to rudy, "Re:RE: CNMI approps- urgent and confidential'
Exhibit 357 8/30/2001 Email from Ring to Evich, "port funding"
Exhibit 359 10/30/2001 Email from Abramoff to Ring, Boulanger, Vasell, Rudy, Williams, Platt, Smith, and Wilson, "RE: CNMI: Energy and Water?"
Exhibit 397 3/27/2003 Email from Pierce to Ring "please review" and attachment
Exhibit 401 4/22/2003 Email from Ring to Pierce (no subject) and attachments
Exhibit 901 7/24/2001 Email from Abramoff to Ring and Rudy, "RE: CNMI energy and water update"

Who is Carmencita Abad?

As mentioned in Kevin Ring's indictment Carmencita (Chie) Abad, a former CNMI garment worker, became an outspoken advocate in the U.S. exposing CNMI human and labor rights abuses in the garment industry.

My husband and I interviewed her in January and February 1998 at the Sako barracks in Saipan. We met Chie through former union leader Vic Perez. She worked for Sako for 6 years, often working for 14 hours a day.

Chie was working to form the first garment union in Saipan. Employees were intimidated by the employer who also threatened that the plant would be shut down if they voted to unionize. The union leaders lost the election by 5 votes and Chie's contract was not renewed.

The Abramoff-CNMI team worked to both investigate and discredit her as can be seen from the billing records and CNMI press releases.

From the Indictment:
62. On or about February 2, 2000, defendant RING sent an email to Abramoff in which he reported that Representative 5's Legislative Director had been calling the INS for a response to a letter sent to the INS by Representative 5 at defendant RING'S and Abramoff s request, calling for an investigation into the immigration status of a woman who had been advocating minimum-wage and other labor reform that would adversely impact Abramoff's clients in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).
Representative 5, former Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA) and his wife Julie's names appear in over 20 exhibits. Both are under investigation by the federal government for their part in the Abramoff scandal.

One of the Abramoff team's anti-federalization writers was John del Rosario who had this to say in a May 1, 2000 Saipan Tribune editorial about Carmencita (Chie) Abad:
It is also rumored that Interior paid for travel expenses to the US mainland for such witnesses as Carmencita Abad. It involved a clandestine operation on the part of OIA where the witness’s US visa was procured out of Palau.

Ms. Abad has linked-up with human rights groups traveling to college campuses preaching hypocritical views of exaggerated and self-concocted abuses while in the NMI. Nice try! I am sure her claims would instantly fizzle if we in fact research how she’s treated her former employees in Manila.

Interesting how Interior’s witnesses, who stood tall and proud before Congressional hearings, have never returned to the islands to settle alleged injustices. For all we know, Interior must have illegally worked out its own "Witness Protection" program either sending these people to places in the country with new identities or back home with money in their pockets--ignorantly paid for by US taxpayers--for being obedient.

It’s a waste of time, energy, taxpayers money from both sides of the Pacific. About the only people enriched by Interior’s scheme are its monied labor unions’ bosses and witnesses at the expense of taxpayers here and across the country. It’s time to clean this mess up once and for all in the name of justice!
What a spin! Abramoff's fingerprints are all over this. Chie was never paid by the Department of Interior, but was brought to the U.S. by the Global Survival Network, a human rights group that investigated abuses in the CNMI. I was contacted by the group to help them connect to workers who knew about the human rights abuses. I connected them with Chie and other guest workers. In fact, they more or less retraced my footsteps on the trip I made the previous year and their report echoed and reaffirmed my 1998 report on the status of the guest workers.

Chie continues to this day to be a spokesperson for garment union groups advocating for better working and living conditions in factories that bear the Made in USA label. She was granted asylum like several other witnesses.

Del Rosario earlier gave misleading information about Chie in this August 31, 1999 Saipan Tribune article:
The Tribune has learned that former garment worker Carmencita Abad is traveling the country telling false and misleading stories about conditions in the apparel industry in the islands.

The NMI basher was recently in Texas again spreading aged-old information about the Northern Marianas whose travel expenses is rumored as being bankrolled by either the textile labor unions or an activist group of sort or both.

...The Tribune also learned that Ms. Abad filed an EEOC Case (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) sometime last year. Federal District Court documents show that Ms. Abad was granted a preliminary injunction in November of 1998 which required her former employer to retain her on a Temporary Work Authority (TWA). But she requested for an emergency return to the Philippines and has since never returned. Her TWA expired last April.

The Tribune placed a call to EEOC’s office here last week, but was told by an INS official that they only come in twice a month to investigate labor complaints. EEOC is a federal outfit who does part-time labor investigation in the NMI out of Honolulu. The one puzzling aspect of Ms. Abad’s entry into the US mainland was the rather swift manner with which she entered the country via Guam.

Questions like: who helped her with her visa, the quick and instant approval of said visa, possibility of her now boasting a green card and who’s paying for her travel expenses around the country smearing the image of the NMI have certainly boggled the minds of leaders and observers here.

Said Rep. Melvin Faisao, chairman of the House Federal Relations Committee: "It’s an interesting case that also merits probing by the US House Resources Committee. I want to see whose dirty hands had a role in the quick transition of Ms. Abad turning into a mouthpiece as a terminated employee from the NMI.
Of course, the information was never "age-old" as the recent $1.7 million settlement between Tan Companies and the EEOC prove.

Then there's this July 19, 1999 Saipan Tribune article:
At a student demonstration in Washington, Ms. Chie Abad, a Flilpina who worked in one of the apparel factories here continues to demonize the NMI with outdated information about working conditions in the islands. Perhaps she simply refuses to acknowledge that a lot has changed since her stint here more than four years ago.

But then, Ms. Abad, like student demonstrators in San Francisco whose time out of classes is being paid for by the US Textile Labor Unions and misplaced human rights activists, has found an avenue to make quick and hefty speaking fees just to regurgitate old and irrelevant though sensationalistic information. What a way also to tour the US where all expenses are paid for by the textile labor unions.
Don't fix the problem, rather punish or kill the messengers was a central theme in Abramoff-CNMI play book. Unfortunately, it still is a tactic still used today.

Why would anyone suggest something was amiss with the attorneys defending the garment workers collecting legitimate legal fees from a settlement with offending garment manufacturers and their clothing lines when there were lobbyists stealing money from the citizens to make an innocent victim's life miserable and perpetuate abuses and cover-ups? Please!

Former garment workers and advocates protested the fact that Bellas and the GWTF trustees decided to distribute remaining settlement funds to charities. The plan was approved by Judge Alex Munson. Last week in a last ditch effort to block the money from going to the charities some of the former garment workers filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and notice for preliminary injunction. Unfortunately it was filed after the checks were already distributed and Judge Alex Munson denied the motion.

It's ridiculous that the GWTF gave any leftover funds to charities (no matter how worthy) when so many of the garment workers were appealing for funds as their rejected applications prove.

Former garment workers continue to protest the distribution of the funds to non-related charities. About 50 of them braved the rain last weeked to hold signs at the agarapan Fishing Base to protest the money be given to charities instead of to the workers.

Attorney Bellas also represents the Japanese-owned "clubs" on Saipan and submitted a comment to DHS concerning maintaining the categories of workers such as domestic helpers, bar girls and exotic dancers.

See also these posts:

Judge Munson Denies Request of Garment Workers
Bellas on Garment Workers Trust Fund
Garment Workers Protest Trust Fund
Former Garment Workers' Checks Go Uncollected
Garment Trust Fund
Garment Workers Trust Fund Concern
Checks to Be Issued to Garment Workers


Anonymous said...

Pamela S. Brown has been a consistent advocate of workers' rights and would make an excellent federal judge when the Honorable Alex R. Munson retires.

Anonymous said...

Pam has supported workers' rights for decades, has taken numerous pro bono cases, and could not be easily replaced as the federal ombudsman. For that reason, please Pam, do not consider replacing Munson!

Anonymous said...

Bellass really sounds like an ass. What is his problem?

Anonymous said...

Pam Brown or Jim B. are the logical choices for federal judge and Wendy should be considered for the Ombudspersons position after she would vacate.

Anonymous said...

How about the former AG Atty. Robert Torres?

Anonymous said...

Former AG Attorney Robert Torres for what?

Anonymous said...

Former AG Torres would be a good candidate for a federal judgeship, but isn't interested.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, Congressman Sablan is dead set on nominating Ramona Manglona to replace Judge Munson. She may be a good candidate in another 10 years, but certainly isn't ready for such an elevated post. She is also notoriously lenient on bail and sentencing issues, and would have to recuse herself from any case related to the Villagomez or Manglona clans.

Anonymous said...

jim b would be ok.

Saipan Writer said...

Dr. Joyce Brothers refers to this type of "fighting" as the "politics of personal destruction." See her recent column (especially #6).

Wendy said...

Hi Jane:

When you say "fighting" what are you referring to? I think people have a right to defend their reputation when they are attacked or when the facts are manipulated. I also believe if an issue is put in the public arena that the truth should be revealed. Is revealing facts considered fighting or is it exposing the truth? Is responding to an attack considered fighting? Knowing as much as you can about an issue is important to be able to sort through the spin.

When I read what Bellas had said to a reporter about the settlement and attorney fees I wondered what was his point? That the settlement was not managed well? That he didn't approve of how the court ruled that the money would be divided? That he didn't like Pam Brown? What was he trying to say? Why not be honest with how much money he actually raked in if he is going to single out someone for earning a fee? Why not mention all of the attorneys who worked on the case?

I think Pam was to the point and factual in her response. Is responding to someone who publicly attempts to discredit or shift the focus considering fighting, responding, revealing the facts, or defending? I don't think it's fighting.

Captain said...

There is no way that any Judge from the CNMI could do "Justice" to this Fed position. It is time to "clean" out this haven of inept individuals that are tied by family and politics. There has to be an outside jude for the Fed seat, as stated, it is so bad already, a traffic violation warrants more time behind bars than a violent crime.