In the continuation of the House Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee investigation into the expenses of Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, the committee presented yesterday a receipt from Home Depot in Guam, where Torres bought $817 worth of outdoor garden items or tools using cash on Nov. 11, 2017, and then had the amount reimbursed, describing the items as for his office’s operations.
Rep. Christina E. Sablan (D-Saipan) showed a copy of the receipt to special assistant for administration Mathilda A. Rosario, who was on her third day of testimony in the investigation.
Rosario testified yesterday through a new interpreter, Donald Mendiola. Viola Alepuyo was seated next to Rosario as her counsel.
When Saipan Tribune left the House chamber at about 4:15pm, Rosario was still testifying about Torres’ memo request for reimbursement dated May 3, 2016, to then-Finance secretary Larrisa Larson.
The memo sought reimbursement in the amount of $3,209 for various electronic items. The memo states it’s for office equipment as supplies for the medical referral office in Hawaii.
JGO chair Rep. Celina R. Babauta (D-Saipan) said the Home Depot receipt showed that Torres went to Guam and bought garden outdoor items on Nov. 11, 2017, which was a Saturday and Veterans Day, a holiday. Rosario testified that she did not see the purchased items at the governor’s office.
Rep. Edwin K. Propst (D-Saipan) said he finds “interesting” the items that Torres bought during his “shopping spree.”
“What’s interesting [are] the items he purchased,” Propst said. “So this receipt, it says these items for office operations.”
Propst said what he does not understand is that Torres went to Guam and that some of the items he purchased were a 5-lb pick, a 2.5-lb pick, a lopper, which is a garden tool to cut branches; a chainsaw, and a bush cutter. He pointed out that all these items, including a wheelbarrow, can be purchased at any hardware stores on Saipan.
“The governor is an extremely busy man. But somehow he finds time to purchase these items that are common and can be found on Saipan on every hardware store,” he said.
Besides buying these items in Guam and then bringing them back to Saipan for office operations, Propst said there has to be somebody other than the governor who could buy these items and pick them up from hardware stores on Saipan. “These purchases that were made…I’m also wondering how it was brought back to Saipan,” he said. For example, he said, the gas chainsaw—as normally from his experience, if something has any gas or anything in it—would have to be brought by service or by boat.
“So by any chance do your know how these items were brought back to Saipan?” Propst asked.
“I don’t know, honestly,” said Rosario, through the interpreter.
Propst said he find it “very odd” that Torres has the time to go shopping and buy all these equipment allegedly for office operations.
“He goes to Guam, purchases these items, brings these back to Saipan for office operations when clearly every single one of these items can be purchased easily on Saipan,” Propst said. “This just something like…this is very confusing!”
Sablan noted that the day of the purchase was a holiday being Veterans Day and that the items were paid in cash, according to the receipt.
Sablan said Rosario also testified that she did not see those items in the inventory based on her review of the inventory list. Sablan said Rosario is not clear whether the wheelbarrow is in the governor’s office.
Rosario also testified that she does not know if Torres was on official business in Guam when he went shopping at Home Depot on a holiday, because it was not during her time.