Sources: CUC chief engineer’s office forcibly opened

Computer, hard drive taken from Riegel’s office

Saipan Tribune has learned through multiple sources that top Commonwealth Utilities Corp. management officials forcibly opened CUC chief engineer John Riegel’s office Wednesday.

Sources said his computer and hard drive were some of the items taken out of his office and a locksmith was used to get into his office.

Former CUC chief financial officer Matt Yaquinto told Saipan Tribune there appears to be a clear pattern at the utilities company.

“First [former CUC executive director] Alan Fletcher, then [public information officer] Brad Ruszala, then Matthew Yaquinto, and now John Riegel. All SO (stipulated order) positions, except for Brad Ruszala, but Brad also had a very important position as evidenced by this past weekend and over the past several months. The residents of the CNMI are suffering as they are not getting information. [CUC executive director] Gary Camacho said ‘he could handle’ the PIO duties, but this is clearly not the case,” he says in an email sent to Saipan Tribune Wednesday.

Yaquinto calls the alleged “raid” a breach of Riegel’s contract. Riegel, the head of the water and wastewater division, is on leave until later this week, Saipan Tribune has gathered. The former CFO tells us Camacho approved Riegel’s leave based on the amended contract. “They tried to force him to renegotiate another contract, but the terms were clearly not in his favor and the goal was go get rid of him at anytime,” according to Yaquinto.

Rep. Edwin Propst (Ind-Saipan) has been informed of the situation Wednesday by multiple sources and says he is very concerned.

“If this turns out to be true, I’m urging the House to convene and do an oversight of CUC,” he explains during a phone interview. Propst says an emergency session with lawmakers may be needed. The representative fears the reality of a federally appointed receivership of CUC “if we continue to fire key position in the SO under EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency).” The representative told Saipan Tribune he believes the CNMI locally should be able to handle its utilities if it has a board of directors focusing on policy “and we have the qualified management and personnel to do the jobs.”

A request for comment from CUC acting executive director Gary Camacho about the Wednesday raid has gone unanswered as of press time.

Just a couple weeks ago, CUC filed a lawsuit against Riegel over the amendment of his contract, which would extend the term of his contract, increase his annual salary, and eliminate the termination for cause clause.

CUC legal counsel James S. Sirok says it was wholly within the discretion of CUC as to whether an offer to renew the contract should be made to Riegel. Further, Sirok said, CUC did not have the obligation to provide Riegel with advanced notice of termination of employment upon completion of the term of the contract.

Riegel has not been served yet as of news time Wednesday, Saipan Tribune has learned.

Earlier this month, CUC announced its intent to not honor the terms of the chief engineer’s contract’s amendment at a board meeting.

The chief engineer received a correspondence the day before his leave started, informing him his last day was July 15. But Riegel told Saipan Tribune he believes his contract is still valid and in effect until July of 2018. Riegel said CUC says he is on leave, which technically means he is still employed with the utilities company.

Jillian L. Angeline (Correspondent)

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