Supreme Court employees charged with theft of over $123,000 arraigned

By Bill Jaynes The Kaselehlie Press December 20, 2016 Pohnpei, FSM
During their arraignment this morning, Eric Elias and Ruthie Hadley pled not guilty to all charges related to over $123,000 that went missing from the Pohnpei Supreme Court between 2010 and 2014. The trial on the 60 counts the Pohnpei State Attorney General’s office has filed against them at the court is scheduled to begin in March of next year. The AG’s office alleges 12 counts for each year: Criminal Conspiracy; Criminal Solicitation; Fraudulent Destruction, Removal or Concealment of Instruments; Grand Larceny; Embezzlement; Theft by Failure to make Required Disposition of Funds Received; Cheating; Forgery; Concealment, Removal or Alteration of Records or Proceeds; Misconduct in Public Office; Compounding a Crime; and, Use of State Property. The accused are innocent unless proven otherwise in court.

As reported in The Kaselehlie Press in June of 2014, the discovery of missing funds at the Supreme Court came as part of a surprise cash count inspection of the Pohnpei “collection points” —the units where revenue is collected. That surprise inspection took place in February of 2014. During that inspection auditors discovered that only $302 of $29,614.50 collected in fees by court had been remitted to the Pohnpei Department of Treasury and Administration. That discovery led to a deeper look during which it was discovered that over the course of nearly five years, nearly $168,000 in cash had been collected by the court but only just under $44,000 had been deposited into the Pohnpei Treasury during that time. In June of 2014, the public auditor sent a copy of a letter to The Kaselehlie Press that his office had sent to Fernando Scaliem who was the speaker of the 8th Legislature at that time. ““It should be noted that 1400 plus copies of cash receipts were missing and could not be found in the Supreme Court’s files”, the letter said. “We could not assess or confirm whether the missing receipts were issued or voided. If in fact they were issued, then it is very likely that the amount of the missing and unaccounted monies may be higher than reported herein.”

Mr. Joseph then said that his office had submitted a “thick stack” of documentary evidence to the Pohnpei Attorney General’s office and recommended prosecutorial action. “We consider the findings significant and are recommending criminal investigation and prosecution for those found responsible for the missing and unaccounted funds,” his 2014 letter to Speaker Scaliem said. Until December 2, 2016, the Pohnpei AG’s office never filed charges against anyone. The OPA’s recommendation for criminal investigation and prosecution seemed to have fallen on deaf ears. In 2014 we asked for an interview with Chief Justice Benjamin Rodriguez.

The Supreme Court’s legal counsel responded on his behalf saying that the Court was conducting an ongoing internal investigation on the cash count inspection. The legal counsel said that since all of the previous interdepartmental correspondences on the matter had been confidential, the court would not be issuing a statement on it until the Public Auditor makes the matter public. No statement resulting from any internal investigation was ever published to clear the matter which certainly was made public in The Kaselehlie Press after the Public Auditor sent a copy of the letter to Speaker Scaliem to us. Two months ago, before charges had been filed, the AG’s office sought a warrant of arrest for one of the people accused in the criminal case filed on December 2. Chief Justice Rodriguez denied that warrant of arrest after a hearing that he had called regarding the warrant request. Again, unless a court finds them to be otherwise, the defendants in this case are considered to be innocent.