The Commonwealth Casino Commission board decided yesterday to authorize its chairman, Edward C. Deleon Guerrero, and vice chairman, Rafael S. Demapan, to set a hearing date on the five complaints filed by the CCC executive director before the board against Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC for alleged violations.
At the CCC board’s monthly meeting held at the CCC conference room at Springs Plaza Building in Gualo Rai, the commissioners authorized Deleon Guerrero and Demapan to set other conditions required for that hearing.
CCC legal counsel Michael Ernest, who is prosecuting the complaints, said he and IPI general counsel Michael W. Dotts both asked Deleon Guerrero to recuse himself from one of the five complaints, primarily because he was the CCC executive director when it was filed.
Early this month, acting CCC executive director Andrew Yeom filed a complaint against IPI before the CCC board over IPI’s failure to pay the $3.1 million annual regulatory fee that was due last Oct. 1. Yeom, through Ernest, filed two claims against IPI for violation of the Commonwealth Code and CCC regulation, a claim for breach of contract, and a claim for declaratory order.
Before that, on Sept. 24, Yeom, through Ernest, filed a complaint against IPI before the CCC board for allegedly not complying with the CCC order directing IPI to settle in full any payable or contribution owed a public or private entity and immediately pay any debt owed that is more than 89 days old.
Last Sept. 1, Yeom, through Ernest, also filed a complaint against IPI before the CCC board for allegedly failing to comply with the minimum capital requirements of CCC’s order, among other issues.
Last August, Yeom, through Ernest, also filed a complaint against IPI over its failure to pay the $15.5 million annual casino license fee by the deadline last Aug. 12. Yeom filed the same four claims against IPI.
Last June, then CCC executive director Charlie Atalig, through Ernest, filed a complaint against IPI for allegedly failing to contribute $40 million in Community Benefit Fund money in 2018 and 2019 as required by the casino license agreement.
In an interview yesterday, Deleon Guerrero said the request for his recusal is understood and that he most probably disqualified himself from hearing that one complaint. “Because we’re supposed to be an impartial panel,” he said.
According to him, an administrative hearing requires the hearing officer to be appointed by the presiding officer or the chairman or it can be done by the entire board. Any action requiring the suspension or revocation of IPI’s casino license would require the whole board sitting on that hearing, he added.
“So in that case, there’s no need to appoint a hearing officer if we have to end up hearing again. That’s kind of just a duplicate layer,” he said.
Deleon Guerrero said they decided that upcoming administrative hearing will be conducted by CCC board sitting as a whole. “Now, if one is disqualified or recused, the four will kick in, the vice chair will be the presiding officer and that’s considered the CCC is hearing the case as a whole,” he said.
The chairman stressed that the board has to be unanimous when it comes to suspension or revocation. “When one member decides not to [approve the move], then it will not result in a suspension or revocation,” he said.
Deleon Guerrero said one of his first request will probably be for both parties to provide a list of potential witnesses and provide them an estimated time frame as to how many days they anticipate to complete their presentation.
This, he said, gives them an idea how long they are going to have the Rota and Tinian commissioners present at the hearing on Saipan.
Deleon Guerrero said the law and regulations require that IPI be given IPI due process and the right to be heard. “They have a right to respond and a right to request for a hearing,” he said.