News You Won't Read About in the CNMI

 November 19, 2010

Mark Zachares, the cocky former CNMI Secretary of Labor and Immigration, is scheduled to be sentenced in just 4 days on November 22, 2010 for his role in the Abramoff scandal.  His attorneys pleaded for leniency in their pre-sentencing request, claiming that he is a "law abiding citizen and was once a prosecutor and has great respect for the law."

His attorneys argued, "Any person who contemplates committing actions similar to Mr. Zachares will see that Mr. Zachares’ life was destroyed by his actions and that he has brought himself back into the good graces of this community and his family only by accepting responsibility and improving as a person." They are requesting no prison time.

From my dealings with Mark Zachares, I would characterize him as unapologetic, untruthful, and defiant.  He seemed to get a kick out of abusing power with excuses for not prosecuting serious rape cases, the warrantless raids on private barracks, and denial of basic rights at the detention center he ran.

Prosecutors are asking for a reduced sentence based on Zachares' cooperation with the FBI.  In their motion requesting downward departure under sentencing guidelines acknowledging "...the defendant’s substantial assistance to the government in the investigation of other matters."

The prosecutors cite his cooperation with helping with the investigations of two members of the U.S. Congress. From the motion:
First, the defendant cooperated extensively and usefully in the investigation of Congressman A for accepting things of value from lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The investigation focused on Congressman A’s receipt of certain travel and entertainment, and his subsequent communications about that travel and entertainment to the House of Representatives. The defendant provided extensive, detailed, and valuable eyewitness information about the nature of Congressman A’s travel, and the payment for expenses by Abramoff during that travel. As directed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the defendant also conducted expert research on legislative issues concerning action taken or influenced by Congressman A. At the direction of the FBI, the defendant also made a covertly recorded (though ultimately unproductive) telephone call to another witness to Congressman A’s travel. The defendant’s information, and the information gained from leads that he provided, substantially assisted the government in predicating further investigation of Congressman A. That investigation was halted as a result of Congressman A asserting the Speech or Debate privilege, and through no fault or failure of the defendant. 
Second, the defendant cooperated extensively and usefully in the investigation of Congressman B for accepting things of value from various lobbyists. The investigation focused on Congressman B’s receipt of certain travel and entertainment, and his subsequent communications about that travel and entertainment to the House of Representatives. The government was previously unaware of Congressman B’s receipt of the travel and entertainment at issue. As directed by the FBI, the defendant also conducted expert research on legislative issues concerning action taken or influenced by Congressman B. The defendant’s information, and the information gained from leads that he provided, substantially assisted the government in predicating further, extensive investigation of Congressman B. That investigation was halted as a result of legal and evidentiary issues, and through no fault or failure of the defendant.
My guess is that "Congressman A" is likely former Congressman Tom Feeney who took a golf trip to Scotland with lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Mark Zachares, and former disgraced Reps. Bob Ney, and Tom Delay.  He exercised his Speech or Debate Clause to weasel his way out of being charged in the Abramoff scandal. A Washington DC appeals court halted the Justice Department's investigation of Feeney on the basis of the Speech or Debate Clause.  The clause states "for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other place."

"Congressman B" could be Rep. Don Young. Zachares was his legislator director, a position that Abramoff helped him to land.  In February 1999, Young took a junket to the CNMI when Zachares was DOLI Secretary.   Among other things, Young was under investigation for the mysterious $10 million Coconut Road earmark that appeared in Young's 2005 highway bill. It wasn't in the bill when it passed Congress, but was when President Bush signed it. A developer in Florida who arranged a $40,000 fundraiser for Young supported the earmark. The Young investigation was dropped in August 2010.

Zachares was charged with one felony count of fraud for taking gifts from Abramoff. He could be sentenced to 18-24 months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines. The prosecutors recommended a two level reduction for his cooperation with investigations. That would mean a prison sentence of 12-18 months. I hope he gets enough prison time to allow time for him to contemplate his ill-treatment of foreigner workers in the deplorable detention center he ran.

Few members of Team Abramoff who were charged with a crime have truly taken responsibility for their corrupt actions by acknowledging that their crimes were not victimless crimes.  Former lobbyist Kevin Ring who was found guilty on five felony counts last week remains defiant. Former Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), who spent time in prison for his Abramoff-related crimes, is apologetic, and remorseful, as was documented in Alex Gibney's, Casino Jack and the United States of Money. He is currently studying meditation with His Holiness the Dali Lama in India. Ney's former chief of staff, Neil Volz received probation for his crimes and has also taken responsibility for his criminal acts. Volz is now working with homeless veterans in Florida. Jack Abramoff appears to also have taken responsibility for his crimes admitting guilt and expressing remorse. He will be free in 2 weeks.

According to friends, Casino Jack and the United States of Money, which has been available in stores in the mainland for over a month, is not available to purchase in the CNMI.  Nothing about the acclaimed film has been reported in the CNMI press.  Odd, considering that the islands are the focus of a major section of the film.

Featured in the film are a sheepish Governor Fitial declining to comment on his thief of the speakership, Ombudsman Pamela Brown, former Ombudsman Jim Benedetto, and former Governors Juan Babauta and Froilan Tenorio. Also appearing are former CNMI House members Alejo Mendiola and Norman Palicios.  They admit being bribed by Team Abramoff to switch their votes to elect Fitial as speaker, which resulted in Abramoff getting another expensive contract from the CNMI.  I am heard off-camera in the film interviewing workers as some of my footage appeared in the film.  Saipan filmmaker, Curt Klemstein is listed in the credits as a production assistant.

I recommend buying the DVD from Amazon or another outlet.  The DVD has extras including deleted scenes, extended interviews, Lobbying 101, and a commentary with Academy Award winning director, Alex Gibney. In the director's commentary Alex Gibney takes the viewer through the film describing his brilliant musical selections, discussing the cinematography, and commenting on some of the people who contributed to or were featured in the film.


Anonymous said...

Mark Zachares was no choir boy when he was Secretary of Labor and Immigration in the Northern Marianas and some of his antics and those of his sidekick, Rob Goldberg,were downright evil as well as being illegal.

Zachares was chose by Jack Abramoff because he was a proven scumbag and a person quite willing to betray the public trust for gifts, loans and the promise of a lucrative job with Abramoff lobbying firm.

ACR said...


I didn't think that there was enough evidence in the Zachares document to identify "Congressman A". Your memory and links convince me you're right. Former Rep. Tom Feeney has a lot in common with "Congressman A".


Wendy said...

Hello ACR!

I kept trying to recall where I heard that phrase "speech and debate clause" and then it dawned on me -Tom Feeney. I am sure he is Congressman A. As for Congressman B - he most likely is Young, but he could also be Doolittle. I'm not 100% sure. They were both corrupt Abramoff soldiers and both were told by DOJ that their investigations were finished.

Anonymous said...

Watch the headlines for "DVD Import Tax" or "Amazon Lacks CNMI Business License" or "Unpaid DVD Taxes Cause Of Government's Financial Problems, Fitial says."