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Guam ethics panel recommends censure for Sen. Espaldon

HAGÅTÑA — The Guam Legislature’s ethics committee on Tuesday recommended that Sen. James Espaldon be censured and stripped of leadership positions, following a closed-door investigation that found him in violation of the Code of Ethics and Standards.

The ethics inquiry was prompted by a complaint lodged by CNMI Rep. Ed Propst, who blew the whistle on Espaldon’s role as the broker for General Pacific Services Marianas Inc. for the now aborted $11-million transaction involving the Commonwealth Utilities Corp.’s purchase of a generator.

“Ethical standards exist to express accepted expectations of conduct, and they are established not only to bring clarity and adherence to these expectations, but to ensure that shared principles are honored as well,” said Sen. Fernando Estevez, chairman of the legislative ethics committee.

James Espaldon

“It is imperative, however, to also understand that the realm of ethics, unlike that of law, is inherently subjective and that these findings and recommendations alone do not reflect on Senator Espaldon’s person or character,” Estevez added

The Guam Legislature has received the ethics committee’s Resolution 239-34, which contains its findings and recommendations.

Based on standing rules, the Legislature may adopt the committee’s recommendation by 10 votes “or take any other disciplinary action(s) it deems appropriate, including, suspension or discharge.”

“With regards to the investigative process and hearing, the committee limited any bias by considering the perception of a reasonable observer. This consideration was crucial in our deliberation,” Estevez said. “The ultimate decision rests with the body.”

Besides censure and unseating Espaldon from leadership positions on the Legislature, the panel also recommended 16 hours of refresher ethics in government program for the senator and his staff, which must be taken within 30 days after the adoption of the resolution.

Funds allotted to Espaldon’s office would cover the cost of his and his staff’s attendance to the program.

Following the panel’s release of its findings, Espaldon issued a brief statement expressing remorse for his actions.

“The ethics complaint has been an ordeal for me, my family, and the people of Guam and I am sorry that I have caused them any pain or embarrassment. I have learned some hard lessons from this experience,” he said.

“I hold my position as senator to be a matter of public trust and I have always attempted to live up to that trust. Since this matter will now go before the full legislative body for a final resolution, I expect an open, fair and honest discussion of the charge against me,” he added.

Espaldon said he will issue further comments during the Legislature’s deliberation of the resolution in the next session.

Propst said he was satisfied that the Guam ethics panel validated his complaint against Espaldon.

“I am grateful to Senator Esteves, chairman on Ethics and Standards, and his committee members for the work they did,” Propst said in a statement to Variety.

“Moving forward, I sincerely hope that all elected officials in Guam and the commonwealth remember that no one is above the law and that we all must answer to the people who put their faith and trust in us,” he added.

The committee found that Espaldon received “personal gains” when GPSM and Robert and Amellia Toelkes paid for his meals, airfare, and other travel expenses in at least one trip to Korea and several trips to Saipan during the negotiation for the power plant purchase.

The committee also established a conflict of interest on the part of Espaldon when he brokered for GPSM, whose executives include his former chief of staff, Phil Roberto, Robert and Amellia Toelkes.

“The committee finds that Senator Espaldon in fact knew and in   any event should have known that GPSM and Robert and Amellia Toelkes sought to use his influence as a senator in order to influence the CUC,” the resolution states.

The controversy surrounding the generator procurement had prompted CNMI Gov. Ralph Torres to stop the deal and revamp the CUC board.

Source: Marianas Variety : http://www.mvariety.com/cnmi/cnmi-news/local/98686-guam-ethics-panel-recommends-censure-for-sen-espaldon

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