Pohnpei files nine new criminal charges against Chief Justice Rodriguez
- Category: News
- Published: Friday, 01 September 2017 14:40
- Written by Bill Jaynes
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By Bill Jaynes
The Kaselehlie Press
August 24, 2017
Pohnpei, FSM—Late this afternoon, the State of Pohnpei filed nine new criminal charges against Chief Justice of the Pohnpei Supreme Court Benjamin Rodriguez. These new charges are in addition to the 13 criminal charges filed against him by the State in March. He is also defending himself against civil charges filed by the State and an impeachment resolution passed unanimously by the legislature two weeks ago.
Six of the charges claim that two separate defendants paid bail bonds to the Supreme Court but that the money disappeared. The State alleges that neither transaction was deposited into the Pohnpei Treasury as was required. According to subpoenaed bank records for a Bank of Guam account that the State separately alleges was maintained illegally by the Court, investigators could find no evidence that the funds had been deposited into that account either .
One of the defendants had paid a $1000 bail bond, and the other had paid a $100 bail bond. Since the money had not been deposited at the Pohnpei Treasury, they couldn’t collect their reimbursement from the Treasury.
Two of the State’s charges allege that in each case, Chief Justice Rodriguez wrote out a check from the separately held Bank of Guam account to cover the reimbursements of the bail bonds. The charge for doing so is “concealment, removal or alteration of record or process”.
Essentially the charges make the very serious allegation that Rodriguez, in his role as Chief Justice first stole the money, or allowed the money to be stolen. The accuse him of then using other funds that had been deposited in the Bank of Guam account to cover up the alleged theft. If the charges are true, the total amount missing from Pohnpei’s coffers is not $1100 that was not deposited into either account, but $2200 by the time the reimbursement was provided to the defendants to which it was owed.
The State added a ninth count of “Obstructing Justice” when he allegedly barred staff members at the Pohnpei State Supreme Court from complying with instructions of a law enforcement officer in the lawful pursuit of his or her duties.
On June 30 Chief Justice wrote to the Office of the Public Auditor (OPA) claiming that the court’s administrator had been surprised when OPA delivered an investigation activity sheet “purporting to summarize discussions” between the administrator and OPA staff. His letter claimed that she had been surprised to receive the summary because “she had been under the impression that the meeting had been an informal exchange of information,” rather than an investigation.
The letter said, “as long as your office is seeking information regarding our Bank of Guam account only for internal use as part of your usual job duties, I will happily instruct Mrs. Paulis to share relevant records and to prepare a statement which she believes accurately reflects her discussions. However, if this information will be provided to the Attorney General as potential evidence, I must insist that the Attorney General obtain this evidence through the discovery methods prescribed by the Pohnpei Rules of Civil and Criminal Procedure.”
Under a Memorandum of Understand between the Office of the Attorney General, the Department of Public Safety, and OPA the law enforcement agencies have agreed to share information with each other in an effort to enhance the law enforcement efforts on financial crimes of each of the offices and departments. The agreement was designed to make it easier for Pohnpei’s law enforcement entities to detect and to investigate financial crimes within the government. Of the three offices, only OPA has subpoena power and the power to compel a witness to testify .
The State alleges that the Chief Justice used his power as the administrator’s supervisor to quash law enforcement efforts.
Today Governor Peterson confirmed by phone that he had appointed an impeachment tribunal consisting of three of the remaining Supreme Court Justices at the Pohnpei Supreme Court.
Since the passage of articles of impeachment at the Pohnpei State Legislature, Rodriguez has been suspended with pay from his duties at the Supreme Court pending the outcome of impeachment proceedings.
Just before press time for the August 14 issue of The Kaselehlie Press, one of Rodriguez’s attorneys submitted a press release on behalf of Chief Justice Rodriguez saying that he would be resigning effective August 14. August 14 came and went but he did not resign. The Vice Speaker of the Pohnpei Legislature and several others called The Kaselehlie Press asking how we got the information on the announced resignation when neither the Governor’s office not the Legislature had received a resignation letter.
Today Rodriguez submitted a letter to the editor through the same attorney (see page 15). In it he claimed that he would now be resigning from his office on August 28.
He also sent a letter to Governor Peterson and Speaker Scaliem indicating his intention to resign on August 28. Governor Peterson said that the letter was delivered to his office by an employee of Micronesia Legal Services Corporation. The letter seemed only to announce his intention to resign on August 28. Just the same, though Governor Peterson said that “only Monday would tell”, he is interpreting the letter as Chief Justice Rodriguez’s official letter of resignation