Tinian Department of Finance resident director Edward Dela Cruz Shai was arrested on Friday after an investigation by the Office of the Public Auditor revealed that he allegedly submitted false travel documents in order to cash per diem checks for his personal use.
Shai, 50, was served with an arrest warrant issued by Superior Court Associate Judge Kenneth L. Govendo in San Jose, Tinian, on charges of theft by deception and misconduct in public office. His bail was set at $10,000 cash.
Preliminary hearing will be on May 16 at 9am.OPA investigator Juanette F. David-Atalig stated in her report that Shai submitted a total of 44 travel authorizations from 2011 to 2013. Almost all of these travel authorizations were to travel to Saipan, supposedly to meet with various officials for department matters.
David-Atalig said that OPA discovered that each travel was questionable because of inconsistencies with the papers and the justifications for such travels.
David-Atalig said they already informed Shai about their ongoing investigations against him in October but he still submitted this year three travel requests to meet with various officials on Saipan and cashed $1,188 per diem checks.
OPA learned that the officials, however, denied they ever met with Shai.
The investigator said Shai unlawfully received an estimated $1,608.75 from the CNMI government by altering the travel dates on at least seven of his travel vouchers.
The resident director also allegedly cashed and used for personal use about 19 travel advance checks issued to him totaling $10,813 in 2013.
David-Atalig said their investigation began on Sept. 9, 2013, after the OPA hotline received a tip about Shai using government funds to travel twice a week to Saipan, ostensibly to meet with various government officials but not attending those meetings.
David-Atalig said other investigators assigned to the case also confirmed with a Finance official, who discovered a “pattern” of what appeared to be Shai’s frequent trips without filing the proper travel documents with the government.
On Sept. 4, 2013, David-Atalig and two police detectives met with CNMI Procurement and Supply Office director Herman Sablan, who stated he never met or saw Shai from 2012 to the present in any official capacity.
Yet, David-Atalig said, travel authorizations submitted by Shai indicate that the purpose of his travel to Saipan was to meet with Sablan regarding governmental matters—twice in 2011, six times in 2012, and eight times in 2013.
David-Atalig said that on Sept. 6, 2013, she interviewed Finance Secretary Larrisa Larson, who had been listed as one of the government officials with whom Shai was traveling to Saipan to meet.
Larson stated that when she was appointed Finance secretary in 2011, she met Shai twice that year and once again in that same year when he was appointed as resident director for the Tinian Finance office.
Since then, however, Larson said she had not seen or met with Shai in any official capacity.
However, David-Atalig said, Shai submitted travel authorizations and vouchers claiming that he traveled to Saipan to meet with Larson thrice in 2011, 12 times in 2012, and four times in 2013.
David-Atalig said that on Sept. 10, 2013, she and another police detective met with Office of Management and Budget special assistant Virginia Villagomez, who has been listed as one of the government officials with whom Shai was traveling to Saipan to meet.
Villagomez recalled seeing Shai about five times or less from 2012 through 2013, and met with him once in January 2013 to discuss Tinian finance matters.
Travel records Shai submitted indicate that he traveled to Saipan to meet with Villagomez once in 2011, 13 times in 2012, and 11 times in 2013.
Throughout the investigation, David-Atalig said she and a police detective identified 11 trips where Shai asked for two to three days of travel to Saipan for official business, but in reality he would return to Tinian within a full work day or less.
The OPA investigator said Shai did not amend his travel documents to reflect the true and correct travel dates and as a result of this, he was reimbursed approximately $4,294 for his travels between 2011 to 2013.
On Oct. 24, 2013, David-Atalig and a police detective met with Shai at the Tinian Finance Office and told him about the ongoing investigation into his travel activities.
David-Atalig said that Shai told her that, having worked for the government for 22 years, he understands the requirements and policies regarding government travels. He stated that he prepared all his travel authorizations and properly routed it.
Initially, David-Atalig said, Shai stated that he never made up any trips just to take the travel advance money because he is aware that this would be considered fraud.
Later, the investigator said, Shai was questioned on each of the 44 separate travel authorizations gathered during the investigation.
David-Atalig said that Shai identified 18 travel authorizations he submitted in 2013 where he did not perform and, instead of returning the per diem to the government, he admitted cashing the checks and using the money for personal needs.
David-Ataig cited two travels in which Shai claimed that in January 2013, he requested two three-day trips to Saipan to meet with Public Auditor Mike Pai and Attorney General Joey San Nicolas regarding procurement matters.
Two Tinian Imprest Fund checks each in the amount of $637 were eventually cashed.
But when interviewed, Pai and San Nicolas stated they never met with Shai on the dates in question, the OPA investigator said.
When asked about his meeting with Sablan, Villagomez, and Larson as he indicated in his travel authorizations, Shai allegedly stated it was difficult meet with these individuals because of their busy schedules.
David-Atalig said Shai admitted that he rarely met with Larson and Villagomez in 2013 because they were too busy.
As of December 2013, the investigator said, Shai’s pending balance owed to the government for his travels was $7,494.87. These amounts, the investigator said, are subject to change pending OPA’s requests for more documents from Freedom Air and Finance.
In March 2014, David-Atalig said she obtained information that Shai once again submitted false travel documents in order to cash the per diem checks and use these funds for his personal use.
Shai submitted three separate travel requests in February and March of this year to meet with various officials on Saipan and to follow-up with other matters pertaining to the Finance Office.
David-Atalig said the per diem checks totaling $1,188 has already been cashed but, according to the person in charge of processing travel documents at the Finance office on Tinian, Shai has yet to submit his travel vouchers or any amendments for that matter.
David-Atalig said that Customs director Jose Mafnas and OMB’s Villagomez, who were listed as officials Shai supposedly met, denied that either of them or their staff had a meeting with the resident director anytime this year for any official purpose.