William Mendiola Castro, a former Guam senator who is now the chief of staff of Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, testified Friday before the House of Representatives Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee that is investigating Torres’ expenditures of public funds and travels.
In response to JGO members’ questions, Castro testified about Torres’ participation in the Marianas Working Group, which Castro explained as a policy framework established between the CNMI and Guam. Castro said the Group’s basic element is designed to address issues of mutual concern and benefit.
Before discussing about the Group, the chief of staff stated that the subpoena issued to him relates to certain receipts, claims or reimbursements, but that he will answer questions outside of these receipts.
He said Torres gave remarks at meetings in Guam multiple times and that first lady Diann T. Torres was also part of the Group’s welcoming team almost every time.
Castro said that whenever the Guam delegation would arrive on site at the Group’s events, nine times out of 10, Diann Torres would be on the side of Gov. Ralph DLG Torres to extend her hand and appreciation for their participation.
Castro also answered questions related to an appreciation barbecue held at his personal residence on a weekend in the evening sometime in the spring of 2019. He said he already issued a statement to this effect to Rep. Christina Sablan (D-Saipan) in July of 2020.
The chief of staff said the purpose of the gathering was to thank all those on Guam who donated thousands of items to assist the CNMI in their recovery from Super Typhoon Yutu. “As is custom in my family and, for most Chamoru and most Pacific island cultures, it is customary to bring something to a social gathering, in his case—food and refreshments,” he said.
Castro said Torres did make an appearance and he made a donation connected to this event. He said Torres’ donation was placed on a table in the open as with other food and drinks.
“While the event was hosted at my private residence using private funds and not in my official capacity as a Guam senator at the time, I appreciated that the head of state, the governor of the CNMI was present to convey a few words on behalf of a grateful community,” Torres said.
Castro said Torres addressed those who were present by extending his appreciation for all that were donated to Tinian and Saipan: 50 portable stoves, 100 hammers, 5,000 nails, 250 pillows, and 2,000 blankets, sanitary items for women and children, small refrigerators, and close to 80 monitors for the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp.
Castro said the point is that Guam gave freely and in a very big way as part of its love for the Marianas.
He said the first of these items, as Guam and CNMI media reported, were transported on three small boats that sailed to Tinian just days after the eye of the typhoon passed through the south of Saipan and over Tinian. Castro said he knows because he was on that 14-16-hour voyage in typhoon-condition waters. He said they had 13 boats committed but because of the conditions they were fortunate even three came out and help.
“We did this at no cost to the people of the Commonwealth, but at great personal risk to life and definitely shared expense,” Castro said.
In a travel authorization for Torres taken on Nov. 11 and 12, 2017, Castro said he can’t recall meeting Torres at that time. When Rep. Donald M. Manglona (Ind-Rota) pointed out that this meeting would have occurred on Veteran’s Day back in 2017 and over the weekend, from Saturday to Sunday, and asked if they had a meeting even on a holiday, Castro replied that in their line of work, they’re going to do it whenever it’s possible to do it. “So the short answer would be yes,” Castro said.
As for a Home Depot trip Torres took on Nov. 11, 2017, Castro said he does not recall that he accompanying Torres on this trip. “Is my name anywhere associated with this particular receipt?” Castro asked, to which Rep. Richard T. Lizama (D-Saipan) answered “no.”
Castro also stated he did not go with Torres on a boat back to Saipan.
Lizama also showed travel documents for Torres’ travel performed from Jan. 9 to 10, 2018 in Guam.
Lizama said the purpose of the Guam trip, according to Torres TA, was to meet with Castro to discuss critical economic issues pertaining to both the CNMI and Guam and to foster a closer collaboration to address the needs of the Marianas for a long term.
Lizama said there is no trip report and that governor signed a form indicating that he lost all boarding passes to and from Saipan.
Castro said he does not recall meeting with Torres on that specific dates, but that between the fall of 2017 and perhaps through 2020, there were a lot of activities as Torres and other members of the CNMI Legislature and Executive Branch made frequent trips to Guam.
Rep. Vicente Camacho (D-Saipan) showed TA which Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and Diann Torres took from Saipan to Guam on April 20 to 22, 2018.
Camacho said the purpose of the travel according to Torres was to meet with then-Gov. Calvo and various senators to continue on the Marianas Working Group collaboration.
Camacho said there is no trip report and no official program invitation, or agenda provided with the records. Camacho said the government paid for airfare of the governor and his wife as well as provided a stipend and lodging to the governor.
He said the record also indicates the Torres couple were accompanied by personal security details to attend these meetings on April 20 to 22, 2018.
Castro said he can’t recall meeting the Torres couple, but that the date was consistent or fall within the same window when they had formally established the Marianas Working Group.
Camacho also showed Torres TA dated Feb. 2, 2018 to meet with resident heads of Tinian departments as part of the Group and that again there was no trip report and no official invitation or agenda.
Castro said he did not attend the Tinian meeting, but that his recollection that was around that time that a large group of delegation from Guam participated in bilateral talks on issues ranging across seven broad areas.
He said Gov. Calvo accompanied Torres to Tinian in that meeting.