Empire Built on the Backs of Cheap Foreign Labor Celebrated

April 10, 2012

Most people with working moral compasses distance themselves from slick criminals and known lawbreakers.  That is unless the criminals or lawbreakers have celebrity, money or both. Then somehow excuses are made and bad acts are forgotten or forgiven. It may be easy to argue or justify bad acts when there are no victims, but when bad acts result in personal harm of another, or as in the case of the Tan legacy, thousands, it seems wrong to celebrate them.

The entire Tan clan was in Saipan yesterday to celebrate 40 years in Micronesia. Many of the benefactors, the former Tan Holdings employees/officers who lined their pockets with profits from Tan's sweat-shops and other Saipan-based businesses were joyfully toasting 30 years of Tan in Saipan (or SaiTan, as some say). They were joined by politicians, officials, and the elite of the CNMI.  Not only did dignitaries, businessmen and elected officials attend a very public celebration for a family that caused suffering to so many innocent people, but school children served as performers.

In 1972 Dr. Tan Sui Lin and his family moved from Hong Kong to Guam.  Since 1983 Tan Holdings has been located in Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) where Tan sons, Henry, Willie and Jerry have run the many businesses, including garment factories,  airlines, hotels, fishing, real estate, poker machines, ground services, publishing (Saipan Tribune), retail and wholesale sales. The business is said to currently have it's eyes on developing Marpi, a pristine tourist spot on Saipan.

The parent company Luen Thai, Ltd. was founded by Dr. Tan Siu Lin and rooted in Saipan by sons, Willie, Henry and Jerry Tan. The Saipan businesses made international news for corruption, illegal operations and questionable links to felons like lobbyist Jack Abramoff and former Texas Rep. Tom DeLay. From poker rooms, to hotels, garment factories, and fishing fleets the Tans have raked in the money while leaving a trail of destruction – social and criminal problems associated with poker rooms, the empty, rat-infested garment factories that stand out as eye-sores in Saipan, broken dreams of cheated workers,  overfishing in the Pacific waters and criminal scandals.

The Tan family also developed a reputation for abusing their workers. There is something extremely ugly about immigrants treating other potential immigrants as less than human, as labor units rather than as future citizens. In 2009 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission settled four discrimination lawsuits against L and T companies. The EEOC press release stated, " L & T Group of Companies, Ltd., the largest employer and conglomerate of garment manufacturers in Saipan, has agreed to pay $1.7 million and to provide far reaching and significant injunctive relief to settle a series of lawsuits filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that charged the company with retaliation and discrimination based on national origin, pregnancy and age, all in violation of federal law."
In 1991 Willie Tan, owner of Tan Holdings 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 in his garment factories. He also paid $76,000 in OSHA violations and pledged $1.3 million in factory renovations. I wonder what these cheated workers think of the festivities.

Aside from years of well-publicized and documented labor abuses, there are the ties to felons that sets this company apart. Willie Tan's name is linked to convicted felons including Jack Abramoff, Michael Scanlon, Ed Buckham, Kevin Ring, Mark Zachares and others charged in the Abramoff lobbying scandal. Email exchanges between Tan, Abramoff and other felon--lobbyists appear in indictments, information and other court documents. The ties between Tan and Abramoff were also documented by U.S. and international press and documentaries such as Capitol Crimes by PBS.

The Asian Sentinel outlined a sliver of Willie Tan's involvement in the Abramoff scandal, including the backdoor Fitial-Abramoff scheme to ensure Fitial's speakership in the CNMI House so he could get Abramoff's lobbying contract renewed. Tan played a part in that scheme by funding Abramoff lobbyists Ed Buckham and Michael Scanlon's trip to the CNMI where they traded promises of infrastructure funds for Rota and Tinian in exhange for Rota Rep. Alejo Mendiola and Tinian Rep. Norman Palicios backing of Fitial for Speaker. From the article:
...files seen by Asia Sentinel that were recently released during hearings by the US Senate Indian Affairs Committee contain a copy of an email Abramoff sent Willie Tan, who oversees the families' interests in Saipan, on December 17, 1999 about paying for the trip.

"Per my previous email, the cost of Ed's and Mike's trip was as follows:
"Airfare $17,448
"Hotels (Saipan and Tinian) $4,879
"Mike loss of wages $3,250
"Total $25,577

At the time of the Saipan trip, Scanlon was in his final days as an aid to DeLay. He pled guilty last November to conspiring to bribe a member of the US Congress and other public officials. 
Buckham, who was once DeLay's chief of staff, was at the time of the trip running his own lobbying firm, Alexander Strategy Group, and employing DeLay's wife. A recent investigation by the Washington Post found that various Tan companies paid US$650,000 to the US Family Network, a nonprofit group Buckham and his wife founded ostensibly to promote "family values," between 1997 and 2001.

The newspaper reported that the Buckhams paid themselves at least US$40,000 in commissions on the Tan donations. The Tans' contributions represented more than a fifth of the money collected by the Family Network; the Buckhams kept a third of the group's US$3.02 million in collections for themselves.
Let's not forget former Rep. Tom DeLay, another notorious felon pal lauded by Tan and Fitial. Tan hosted a 1998 New Year's Eve party on Saipan for felon DeLay and fellow junketeers. Later Willie Tan was filmed saying that former Rep. Tom DeLay was his friend and would block any reform measures in the House that would address labor abuses in the CNMI. 

Years earlier, in 1996 Jack 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 (currently lieutenant governor) at the 1996 Republican Convention held in San Diego, California.

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 (emphasis added):
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.
The CNMI government was billed a total of 39 hours for those meetings.

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.

Fitial, Inos and Tan were the recipients of the infamous July 30, 1997 Secret Memo sent by Abramoff to outline their schemes to halt federalization. The plan included planting editorials and newspaper articles written by the lobbying team, writing speeches for members of Congress to read on the floor of the House, penning "Dear Colleague" letters, manipulating congressional hearings, defunding the Office of Insular Affairs, and getting "enemies" of the CNMI (federalization supporters) fired.

Willie Tan set up a company called Rose Holdings to hire felon-lobbyist Jack Abramoff to block federalization in an effort to protect his family's business interests in the CNMI.  The Standard reported:
In May 2002, Abramoff notified the US Senate that Rose Garden had hired him and Greenberg Traurig, his firm at the time, to represent Rose Garden's "interests before federal agencies and [the] US Congress." Abramoff recorded Rose Garden's address as a luxury flat in Tai Hang, above Causeway Bay, and its business as international trade.

Over the next year and a half, the records show, Rose Garden paid Greenberg Traurig US$1.4 million (HK$10.92 million) for putting its case to the Senate, House of Representatives and US Department of Labor. Hong Kong's Companies Registry has no record of Rose Garden Holdings; nor does the telephone directory.

The apartment listed by Abramoff as Rose Garden's premises has been owned since 1992 by Luen Thai Shipping and Trading, according to the Land Registry. Luen Thai Holdings and its controlling shareholders, the Tan family, were leading beneficiaries of Abramoff's Washington lobbying.
An email exchange between Abramoff and Tan showed that Tan paid a quarterly feee of $55,919 for the sky boxes used by the lobbyists to bribe staffers and members of congress to protect the interests of their clients, including the CNMI.

When the CNMI government ran out of lobbying money in 1998, the Tan companies and Tan-run organizations came to the rescue, according to an Asian Sentinel article:
When the government stepped out, the private sector stepped back in. The Saipan Garment Manufacturers Association teamed with the Saipan Chamber of Commerce and two other local business groups to form the Western Pacific Economic Council, which in turn paid Preston Gates US$2.4 million in 1999 and 2000 for lobbying.
In fact, in March 1999 The Western Pacific Economic Council contracted Abramoff to lobby against CNMI federalization and a raise in the minimum wage. The lobbying firm continued the original game plan they had drafted with Governor Pedero P. Tenorio, Speaker Fitial, and garment magnate Willie Tan.

Tan had ties and friends in all of the organizations making up WPEC - with Lynn Knight (Chair of Hotel Association Northern Mariana Islands, former Saipan Chamber of Commerce President, and former Tan employee), Ron Sablan (HAMNI president, former Marianas Visitor's Authority board member, Chair of WPEC), Richard Pierce (Tan employee and President of Saipan Garment Manufacturers Association) Marian Aldan-Pierce (President of Saipan's Duty Free Shops, Marianas Visitors Authority board member), and Jerry Tan (Vice-President of Tan Holdings, Chair of Marianas Visitors Authority). They also had direct links to former Tan employee, Benigno Fitial. Those who benefited most financially from the Tan ties are the biggest supporters and most are among those listed here.

The love fest Saipan holds for the Tan's is not much different than the relationships in a family where the wife and children are victims of domestic abuse at the hands of the husband-father. They may tolerate the abuse, forgive or look the other way because the abuser is the breadwinner. So they sacrifice dignity, self-esteem, self-respect and perhaps personal safety and ultimate well-being in exchange for perceived financial security. In the case of the CNMI-Tan relationship the sacrifice has been the damage to the cheated and/or abused foreign workers, especially the thousands never made completely whole; the damage to the environment; the social destruction and criminal element attracted to poker rooms; and the damage done to the reputation of the CNMI. The Tan empire was built on the backs of underpaid workers. Where is the reason to celebrate?


Anonymous said...

not only Tan most of hotels and resorts etc abusing foreigners where is the US labor they must start them office on saipan not the cnmi abusing/discrimination labour department,,,,,US labor must take responsibilities on US soil.....most of employer are cheating workers because most of lawyers are making bucks by rich employers....common USA slap innnnnnn,,,,,,amen USA lovers

Anonymous said...

I heard via the coconut telegraph that Willie boy was afraid to visit Saipan as the FBI wanted to sit down with him and have a nice long chat. I guess not?

Wendy Doromal said...

7:14 I heard that too, but whatever...

My respect for US law enforcement agencies decreases every year. How many times were federal officials handed information and did nothing? It is well known that the Fiesta Resort on Saipan runs an organized escort/prostitution service that is documented through logs and witnesses. Has anyone been charged? No!

Anonymous said...

On the other side of the spectrum, The Delgado family in the Phil. parallels the Tan's, but in the Phil. they manage to buy their way out of everything.
This seems to be third world actions by the "haves".
Look at the "local" families that are so abusive also to their workers.
Look at their last names and origin.

Anonymous said...

Willie Tan comes here all the time. He is here now, was here about a month ago, and was here just before the holidays too. He has a mansion on Navy Hill and owns three hotels, controls all of the shipping (which gives him control of food prices indirectly), insurance is monopolized and they all go through them, the travel industry here is monopoly as well, he has all but a couple lawyers conflicted and those two won't oppose, he controls communications (phone and email records) because he fronted the dough for the Delgatos, controls power and dominates construction, he has a share of the news media, and completly controls legislation cause his Guv would veto anything he was told.

Anonymous said...

Contract workers were here to work and go home after their contract was complete. How hard is that to understand? Life is rough and not everyone gets a fair break. Now, the CW's think we, the U.S. owe them something for allowing them the opportunity to work on U.S. soil with minimal effort and restrictions. Go home, this is not your home simply because you worked here. Take the anchor babies with you.

Anonymous said...

8:12am, you still alive? a kind of animals like you should have been conked out now when one by one is going home already until everyone here likes you never appreciate anything. you're the one to wake up! and please don't leave your guv unawakened too, he may have a terrifying dream.

Anonymous said...

"Happy Birthday China!" These were your words not too long ago. China is one of the most ruthless brutal dictatorships in history and you say "Happy Birthday"?. Their ENTIRE economy is about cheap slave labor Wendy Doromal. Do not lose sight of that. Their Government routinely performs live organ extraction on Falun Dafa.

Wendy Doromal said...

4:08 Wishing a Happy Chinese New Year's to my Chinese friends is not "Happy Birthday China". What is your problem? I do not approve of brutality, human rights abuses, discrimination or torture, whether it is inflicted by the Chinese or any other country including the U.S. That does not mean because these countries have deplorable human rights abuses that I hate Americans, or Chinese people. I hate the brutal acts. People are not always responsible for their leaders' actions, but every one of us has the obligation and responsibility to stand against them and demand justice for all people.

Anonymous said...

A good post. So true, Wendy. Tan is worshipped on Saipan for his money. The NMI leaders fell all over each other giving them commendations, awards and praises. If a similar mob family was honored like this in the mainland heads would roll. It's acceptable in the NMI because the leaders are ethically challenged and the public doesn't even care as long as some of the money lands in their hands too. A sorry state of affairs, indeed.