It’s been more than a year since the government terminated the services of then-hospital contractor Idaho-based International Consulting Services, but nothing seems to be moving in the investigation of the Office of Public Auditor and the Office of the Attorney General.
Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. board members disclosed this during its meeting on Wednesday, expressing disappointment with how the government is handling the case.
According to board chair Joaquin Torres, perhaps it’s better to start looking for a private lawyer who could do the job of getting back the nearly $200,000 the corporation paid ICS.
“Nothing much had occurred [on the ICS matter]. I’ve talked to [Attorney General Joey San Nicolas] and it seems there is no move to pursue this case,” interim corporation CEO Esther Muña told the board, adding that the case does not seem to be a priority for the OAG.
With great dismay on their faces, vice chair Pete Dela Cruz and chairman Torres pointed out that the nearly $200,000 the corporation is trying to recoup from the company is no small amount for the government to ignore.
“That’s $150,000 plus $37,000 [that we want back]. Is that a small amount of money? We should think of hiring a private counsel to pursue this case for us. This is a slum dunk case,” said Torres.
According to Allen Hazlip, legal counsel for the corporation board, the investigation is being handled by the OPA—as far as he remembers. He promised to get more information on the matter, including the right accounting from the corporation.
“But this investigation has been over a year now,” said Torres.
He directed Muña to set up a meeting with Public Auditor Michael Pai to once and for all know the status of the ICS case.
Pai has yet to comment on the matter.
According to vice chair Pete Dela Cruz, it appears the hospital does not need the money, with they way the issue is being handled. “That’s almost $200,000. Seems we’re not needing the money,” to which Muña responded: “We do need that money.”
The ICS secured a six-year sole-source contract with the corporation in February 2012 to do billing and collections for the hospital. Former attorney general Edward T. Buckingham later determined the contract to be costly and unlawful and issued a cease-and-desist order.
The fallout from that failed deal resulted in the sudden termination of the hospital’s chief operating officer, James Phillips, as he was the direct contact for the agreement and the matter was referred to the Office of the Attorney General for prosecution. No update, however, has been made since the relocation of Buckingham early this year and since the termination of former CEO Juan N. Babauta.
Saipan Tribune learned that ICS got an advanced payment of $37,000 for work it didn’t actually do. It was also learned that the corporation wrongfully deposited about $150,000 to an ICS account in May.
The board earlier called not only for an investigation on the Idaho-based company itself but also on the potential involvement of a corporation director who, based on the board’s internal probe, may have had a hand in the company’s “illegal” transaction last year.
Last March 11, 2013, Attorney General San Nicolas confirmed with Saipan Tribune that there is an ongoing investigation on the ICS contract. At the time, he could not give a timeframe as to when the process will be completed.