Dana, Abramoff, and the Mariana Island Abuses (by human rights heroine Wendy Doromal)




Here’s a blogger to put the rest of us little bloggers to shame: Schoolteacher Wendy Doromal, who fought for over a decade, braving death threats (as mentioned below) to bring justice to the guest workers of the Mariana Islands. Most of us have heard about the abuses these women suffered through the last few decades – the barbed-wire fences, the sexual slavery, the forced abortions; most of us know it had a lot to do with Jack Abramoff, who managed to sway enough legislators to allow the Marianas (CNMI) to sell its garments with a “Made in the USA” label while still being exempt from US labor laws; and most of us know that somehow, Abramoff’s best friend Dana Rohrabacher had a lot to do with it too. But Wendy Doromal, over at her blog Unheard No More, ties it all together with this barnburner of an expose, showing exactly how culpable her old nemesis Dana Rohrabacher (up for de-election next week) really was for all of this. READ IT ALL!
(Oh… I added a little bold – Vern)

Dana Rohrabacher: A Five Star General in Abramoff’s Army

October 23, 2008

Dana Rohrabacher is running again for a seat in the U.S. Congress. He does not deserve to serve in that esteemed body. He lacks the character, integrity and honesty required of such a position. We need to sweep out all unqualified members of Congress who promote special interests, thumb their noses at ethics laws, and work for lobbyists rather than the American people. America is crying for competent leaders of character. Leaders like Rohrabacher’s opponent, Huntington Beach Mayor Debbie Cook.

I have had a personal battle with this congressman, at times one-on-one. However, my disdain for the congressman is a result of his actions in suppressing justice for the foreign contract workers of the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). In 1995 I naively believed that human rights was a bipartisan issue that could not be refused. Jack Abramoff, Congressman Rohrabacher, and their fellow conspirators proved that, in fact, they could make human rights a partisan issue and hurt a great many innocent people in the process.

In 1995 Jack Abramoff was working as a lobbyist for Preston Gates Ellis Rouvelas and Meeds when he was hired by the CNMI government to block federalization of the minimum wage and immigration laws. The CNMI wanted to retain its local labor and immigration system that filled the pockets of a few powerful business owners and politicians at the expense of thousands of foreign contract workers.

Abramoff’s lobbying plan was outlined in his pitch letter to CNMI Governor Froilan Tenorio. He had several key strategies that he used to block reform legislation in the CNMI. They focused on denouncing advocates and truthful media, attacking or minimizing the abuse of victims, and promoting the CNMI’s guest worker program as a model that exemplified all that was right with the free market system. They worked against those fighting for reform of the dysfunctional CNMI labor and immigration system that promoted labor and human rights abuses, human trafficking with forced prostitution, and sweatshops. The Abramoff-CNMI army of federalization fighters consisted of members of congress, staffers, think tank followers and loyal media-types he lured to promote the agenda. They were rewarded with campaign donations, trips, positions, gifts, and money.

Congressman Dana Rohrabacher became an outspoken propagandist for Abramoff’s CNMI plan. If other congressmen were foot soldiers for Abramoff, then Rohrabacher was a five star general in the army of corrupt co-conspirators. Abramoff lined up his troops in Congress to defend his new client, the CNMI government. They included: Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), John Doolittle (R-CA), Bob Schaffer (R-CO), Tom Delay (R-TX), Ralph Hall (R-TX), Brian Bilbray (R-CA), Richard Pombo (R-CA), and Don Young (R-Alaska). Some of their staffers would later join the Abramoff lobbying team including Duane Gibson, Counsel for the House Resources Committee; Tony Rudy former congressional staffer for Dana Rohrabacher and Tom Delay; Kevin Ring, former staffer for John Doolittle, and Michael Scanlon, former staffer of Tom Delay.

Washington Meetings
In March 1996 Abramoff arranged for CNMI Governor Froilan Tenorio and some of his key staff to connect with “his friends” in Washington, DC. The lobbyist set up meetings and dinners for them to hobnob with members of Congress and representatives from right-ring think tanks. Members of Congress like Dana Rohrabacher. The island delegation portrayed the CNMI as a “petri dish of capitalism”, a “laboratory of liberty”, and a “free market paradise.” They asked for help in promoting it as such to shift focus from well documented, and much publicized labor and human rights abuses.
Following the Washington meetings, Abramoff’s think tank soldiers started pumping out propaganda in major newspapers like The Washington Times. The Abramoff Congressional soldiers, like Rohrabacher, spread the word in Congress and recruited more supporters. In July 1996 Abramoff sent a fax to Governor Tenorio that stated Rohrabacher’s role in the scheme:

As a consequence of the postponement [of the hearing] we do not need to schedule a telephone call with Congressmen Royce and Rohrabacher for this week, rather, perhaps you and I could discuss the overall strategy and approach for Congressional hearings for the fall when I am in Saipan next week. After we set out strategy, we can move to get the discussion going with Congressmen Royce and Rohrabacher.

On a related note, Congressman Rohrabacher confirmed to me today he intends to bring a group of Congressmen to the CNMI in late December. I will discuss this with you next week, however, it is clear that word is spreading fast among the free market conservatives that the CNMI is a “laboratory of liberty.”

Rohrabacher would lead the troops in portraying the CNMI as a “little experiment”. As a result, the exploitative system that flourished at the expense of the foreign contract workers would continue without federal interference. It was an experiment for sure. An experiment in how long the federal government could be deceived, and how long they would ignore their responsibility to institute change.
1996 GOP Convention
Jack Abramoff, his loyal members of Congress, CNMI officials, right-wing think tank representatives, and garment magnates did not just connect in Washington and in the CNMI. The 1996 Republican Convention held in San Diego, California from August 12th to the 15th was another gathering place where friendships would be forged and seeds would be sown. Abramoff hosted Saipan garment magnate Willie Tan, his company executive, Benigno Fitial (former speaker of the CNMI House and present governor), and another Tan executive, Eloy Inos (current Secretary of Finance) at the convention.
Willie Tan, owner of Tan Holdings, was also an Abramoff client, and he was a labor violator. He was charged with the largest labor settlement with the U.S. Dept. of Labor in U.S. history. paying $9 million in back wages to cheated workers. He also paid $76,000 in OSHA violations and pledged $1.3 million in factory renovations. Over the years many more labor cases would be filed against the company, including a case filed this September against Tan Holdings by the EEOC.
It appears that the three CNMI visitors had a busy schedule at the GOP convention. Abramoff billed the CNMI for five days of meetings, meals, introductions to conservative members of Congress, and parties. Strategies were developed including plans to recruit still more potential CNMI-backers for junkets to the CNMI. From the billing records:

8/10/96 PP [Patrick Pizella] 2.70 Dinner meeting with W. Tan, E. Inos and B. Fitial re: CNMI issues—minimum wage , immigration and upcoming congressional elections and CNMI legislation; discussion re: upcoming trips of journalists and think tank representatives to CNMI and visits to Tan Holdings factory.

8/11/96 PP [Patrick Pizella] 4:30 Participate in event sponsored by Sen. Santorum’s “FIGHT PAC” with W. Tan, E. Inos, B. Fitial and Senator Jim Jeffords (R-VT); follow-up luncheon/discussion with staff director of Senate Energy committee- G. Renkes; introduction of B. Fitial to Cong. Dan Burton (R-IN).

8/13/96 JA [Jack Abramoff] 4.00 Meetings at the Republican National Convention regarding Congressional Conservative Movement and Republican Party support for CNMI

8/13/96 JB [ Jonathan Blank ] 8:00 Meet with Saipan officials.

8/14/96 JA [Jack Abramoff] 4.00 Meetings at the Republican National Convention regarding Congressional Conservative Movement and Republican party support for CNMI

8/14/96 JA [Jack Abramoff] 8:00 Meet with Saipan officials.

8/15/96 JB [ Jonathan Blank ] 8:00 Meet with Saipan officials.

In exchange for all of the opportunities to network and gather support, John Pangelinian, Publisher of the Tan owned newspaper, The Saipan Tribune, made two $5,000 contributions to Santorum’s Fight PAC in August 2006.

Another Abramoff and Rohrabacher friend at the GOP Convention who would become an essential thread in the scandal was Rabbi David Lapin. He gave the benediction at the convention’s Tuesday night session. Dana Rohrabacher referred to Lapin as “my rabbi.” Abramoff would help Lapin land a $1.2 million no-bid contract from the CNMI to promote “ethics in government.” More troubling is that here is no evidence that Lapin ever produced anything to earn the money according to the New York Times.

Of course, Dana Rohrabacher was also a prominent figure at the convention. The Los Angeles Times reported:

And while former Vice President Dan Quayle was staging a rousing pep rally with California convention delegates, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) was outside in the hotel driveway, strapping a surfboard onto a recreational vehicle. Rohrabacher apparently bypassed a private lunch Tuesday for former Reagan White House staffers and campaigners.

“I’m going surfing first,” Rohrabacher said.

From the beaches of San Diego to the most private back-room meetings and points in between, local congressmen are doing what thousands of others who are not official delegates do at these conventions: meet, talk, gossip, spin the GOP message, and party, party, party.

They are all doing something. They’re just not doing it in the national media spotlight generally focused on the convention floor.

The strategy of connecting the CNMI trio with the Republican Conservative Movement was also mentioned in the billing records. One of the conservative groups pushing their values agenda at the convention was the Christian Coalition led by another long-time Abramoff friend, Executive Director, Ralph Reed. He too would become a friend of the CNMI. The Washington Post relates that in 1999 Reed’s firm sent out a mailer to Alabama Christian conservatives asking them to call then-Rep. Bob Riley (R-Ala.) and tell him to vote against legislation that would have federalized the CNMI’s federal wage and immigration laws.

Representing the religious right at the convention was another Abramoff-Rohrabacher friend, Lou Sheldon. He heads the Traditional Values Coalition, which has recently been labeled as a hate group by the Southern Law Poverty Center. Sheldon and his daughter Andrea Sheldon Lafferty, would become prominent defenders of the CNMI agenda taking junkets, trashing advocates and victims, and planting favorable press releases for Abramoff.

Let’s not forget Abramoff-Rohrabacher friend, Grover Norquist of the Heritage Foundation and Americans for Tax Reform who sat on the 1996 Republican Platform Committee. Both groups would send representatives on CNMI junkets and both groups would join the troops to uphold the CNMI agenda. Heritage Foundation’s Daniel Mitchell wrote a piece for the Washington Times, “The Modern Siege of Saipan” while Americans for Tax Reform’s Executive Director Audrey Helen Mullen led a five member delegation of conservative think tank representatives on a November 1996 junket to the CNMI. Mullen’s praise followed the strategy and like the other recruits, she parroted the buzz word:

Governor Tenorio’s support and leadership in carrying out these reforms should make him a hero to all those who advocate free markets.”

At $275 – $360 per hour the CNMI taxpayers paid over $10,000 for the CNMI garment executives to network with Abramoff, his favored conservative groups, and congressional pals while partying, dining, and attend strategy meetings. The cost is especially obscene when one considers that the island’s infrastructure was crumbling as millions were drained from the government coffers to pay for lobbyists.

Junkets to the CNMI
What better way to build support than to take co-conspirators and potential recruits on all-expenses paid trips to the Northern Marianas? The Abramoff junkets started in 1995. Travelers were treated to a tropical stay at the luxurious beach-side Hyatt. After attending a few meetings and taking the tour of the sanitized Tan garment factory, the visitors would have opportunities to golf, snorkel, tour the island, and party. Abramoff arranged over 100 such trips to the CNMI under the guise of “fact-finding” missions. Dana Rohrabacher was one of the U.S. congressmen to accept a junket to Saipan as this December 1996 email to the governor’s administrative officer, Herman Guerrero, details:

I look forward to seeing you when I return with the Congressmen at the end of the month. I hope you will have some time to meet some of them for dinner or lunch. I think you will find them extraordinary people and (especially Rohrabacher) a lot of fun. Thanks again. Kindest regards, Jack

According to reports, Rohrabacher didn’t disappoint; he was indeed fun. On December 29, 1996 Rohrabacher and his fiancée, Rhoda joined Tom Delay (R-TX), John Duncan (R-TN), Brian Billbray (R-CA), Ralph Hall (R-TX), the members’ wives and some Congressional staffers for a holiday jaunt to Saipan. They celebrated the New Year with the governor and some big wigs affiliated with the garment industry at a party hosted by Willie Tan. One person who attended a New Year’s Eve Party alleged that Rohrabacher was roaring drunk and people worried that he would fall into the pool.

The media was blocked from attending the party as this January 5, 1997 Marianas Variety article detailed:

Despite the significance of Delay’s visit, the Office of the Governor’s public information and protocol office (PIPO) imposed a “no media allowed” policy and local reporters who managed to get into one of the congressman’s “closed door” meetings were told to leave as a Variety reporter found out.

However not all reporters we “kept out.”

After informing the Variety that members of the media were not allowed to cover a Tan Holdings dinner reception for Delay last December 28, PIPIO apparently exempted a reporter of a newspaper owned by the garment magnate, Willy Tan from the “gag rule.”

The Variety was also told that the press was not allowed to tag along Delay during his meetings with the Labor and Immigration Department, garment manufacturers and garment workers.

But the New Year’s Eve party was documented by a human rights advocate posing as a garment buyer who filmed it undercover catching Tom Delay’s speech which, of course, praised the CNMI and repeated the mantra as CNN reported:

“You are a shining light for what is happening in the Republican Party, and you represent everything that is good about what we’re trying to do in America in leading the world in the free-market system.”

Inside Edition, and ABC’s 20/20 would air scathing exposes revealing the questionable junkets, adding to an avalanche of media stories that covered both the trips and the labor abuses. The junkets were intended to get the travelers to diffuse the issue of human trafficking and labor and human rights abuses, but they just highlighted them. More and more federal officials, advocates, journalists, and citizens began questioning the ethics and legality of the trips, and began examining the situation in the CNMI.

My differences with Rohrabacher became evident in a February 1997 Washington Post article:

Explaining why he made the trip, Rohrabacher said on his return, “There are a lot of Pacific issues that are important to my district. I border right on the ocean.”

He and other visiting members of Congress praised the CNMI’s approach to immigration and its “business-friendly” atmosphere. They “met lots of guest workers,” including three young Chinese women at a garment factory barracks, and “all seemed to be very happy,” Rohrabacher said.

Despite the local government’s claims to have cracked down, a department official said, “there are still widespread abuses of overseas contract workers in the CNMI,” notably in the garment industry. The factories use the commonwealth to produce clothes that carry “Made in U.S.A.” labels and are shipped to the U.S. market without customs duties or quotas.

Wendy Doromal, a schoolteacher who was forced to flee the islands amid death threats after she exposed labor and human rights abuses against guest workers there, warned in a letter to Clinton last month that letting the CNMI keep control of immigration and the minimum wage would be “a dangerous mistake.” She called for a stronger federal presence.

“How can we, as Americans who denounce human rights abuses all over the world, remain silent when such human rights abuses are occurring on our own soil?” she asked.

Undaunted, the CNMI plans to invite dozens more members of Congress out to the islands this year and to shift its focus to the Senate. Broadhurst said.

The 1996 junket raised serious concerns. I wanted to know who funded the trip, suspecting that Willy Tan or Abramoff’s lobbying team from the Preston Gates firm paid for the junkets. An email sent to Jack Abramoff from Governor Tenorio’s administrative assistant, Herman Guerrero revealed there were questions about the travelers’ expenses. Another email from a Preston Gates travel agent states that Abramoff used his credit card to pay for the trips. I sent a certified return receipt letter to Rohrabacher on January 8, 1997 asking for answers. He did not respond.
I also sent letters to the other junket participants including Dick Armey (R-TX), Phil Crane (R-IL), Tom Delay (R-TX), Brian Billbray (R-CA), Gil Gutknecht, Jr. (R-WI), and John Duncan (R-CA). John Duncan was one of the few members of Congress who replied. He sent this revealing letter to me. I was amazed by these lines from the congressman:

I went to the Northern Marianas primarily because I am on the Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over U.S. Territories, and also because I had doubts about this delegate issue. I felt this trip would be an opportunity for me to learn more about this area.

AIso, I went at the request of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, of California, with whom I came to Congress several years ago. He is a close friend of mine, and he has done things for me, and I did this in part for him.

Yes, Dana Rohrabacher was a good recruiter. Interesting, but still I had no answer to my questions so I also sent a letter to the House Ethics Committee’s Chair, Congresswoman Nancy Johnson. It was ignored. I also sent a letter to House Office of the Clerk as instructed in a letter I received from Dick Army. I sent a letter to the Legislative Resource Center as directed by another letter I received from the Office of the General Counsel. It said in part:

The Freedom of Information Act applies only to agencies of the United States as defined therein. The Congress is specifically excluded from the definition of an agency. 5 U.S.C. 55 1a( 1). The reasons for this exclusion of Congress from the Act include issues of separation of powers and constitutional immunities of Congress from outside questioning and interference.

Accordingly, Representative Gutknecht is not subject to the Freedom of lnformation Act. However, his office has asked me to make you aware that much of the information you seek may be available from the Legislative Resource Center of the House of Representatives.

I never did receive answers to the questions that I had sent, but it appears from Abramoff’s billing records that it was the CNMI taxpayers who paid for the trips.

At least one Republican congressman refused to go on a junket. Rep. William J. Tauzin (R-LA) decided not to go. The Marianas Variety covered the story in February 1998:

Tauzin’s press secretary, Ken Johnson, told the New York Times that previous “fact-finding” trips by congressional staff members did not actually give them a picture of what’s really happening in the CNMI. Johnson said staff members who had come to the commonwealth upon invitation of the local government, “were shielded from seeing and talking to people who would be able to shed light on what is happening” in the islands.

“You’re going to see what they want you to see,” Johnson was quoted as saying. “You can’t make a decision here in Washington that affects the Northern Marianas with your head stuck in the sand.”

That statement said what I had been saying about the CNMI junkets – that those who accepted the trips would see what the Abramoff-CNMI team wanted them to see.

But someone would nail it as far as the junkets and junket-takers. In October 1997, Rep. George Miller (D-CA) sent a letter to the editor of The Washington Post.

Where on American soil would congressional leaders excuse policies that exploit thousands of women except in the most remote territory in the Western Pacific, the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands? (“Northern Marianas: Not a Workers’ Paradise,” October 14, 1997) Republicans leaders like Dick Armey, Tom Delay and Dana Rohrabacher dismiss widespread evidence of worker mistreatment by asserting that the employees in the Marianas are treated better than had they remained in China and other underdeveloped nations that, unlike the Marianas, are not part of the United States. That is a novel and horrifying definition of what constitutes acceptable labor practices.

Despite highly credible reports of widespread and continuing abuses in the Marianas’ garment industry — from the Clinton Administration, the local and international media, numerous human rights and labor rights organizations, the House Resources Committee staff among others Gov. Tenorio blusters his defense of his current policies and House Republicans have refused to conduct even a preliminary hearing on the scandal.

Instead of investing in enhanced labor and civil rights enforcement, Tenorio has spent far in excess of a million dollars in his junket campaign to bring Members of Congress and their staffs to the Marianas and by hiring high-priced Washington lobbyists to cuddle up to his apologists in Congress, How much he has spent will surely be a key topic whenever hearings are finally scheduled.

No member of Congress would tolerate in his or her own congressional district a fraction of the abuse reported in the CNMI. whether it was good for economic development or not, and congratulations are due GOP senator Murkowski for saying so. Gov. Tenorio has spit in the eye of the Congress, and Republican leaders are thanking him for it and providing him political cover while citing his “economic miracle” to promote their own crusade against the minimum wage and other labor safeguards.

CNMI-Hollywood Connections
On February 9, 1997, Governor Froilan Tenorio joined his new pal, Dana Rohrabacher in Hollywood to speak before the Associated Film Commissioners International to announce the opening of a film office in the CNMI. Billing records indicate that Abramoff arranged the trip and traveled to Los Angeles to join the festivities:

02/09/97 JA 8.00 ‘ Travel to L. A. reception for Governor

An article in the February 11, 1997 Marianas Variety reported:

While in Los Angeles, the governor on Saturday was given a dinner reception by Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-California).

Rohrabacher, who recently visited the CNMI, helped Tenorio arrange meetings with Hollywood producers, Broadhurst said.

What the article did not say is that this was all done on taxpayers’ dollars and Abramoff billed the CNMI for 8 hours. Cha-ching.

It is well known that Jack Abramoff dabbled in the film industry creating the right-wing propaganda film, Red Scorpion. His friend, Dana Rohrabacher was also involved in the film industry, selling his script, Baja, to an obscure producer, Joseph Medawar who owned Steeple Enterprises. He was criticized for not disclosing the contract, an ethics violation. The Los Angeles Times reported:

Following the sale of the script to Joseph Medawar, a little-known producer, Rohrabacher helped introduce Medawar to at least five Republican congressmen and staff members at the House of Representatives’ Homeland Security Committee in 2004. At the time, Medawar was pitching his latest Hollywood project – a TV series about the Department of Homeland Security.

One of those congressmen was former Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach), then chair of the Homeland Security Committee. Rohrabacher said he also made calls that helped Medawar and his crew gain access to officials in federal law enforcement agencies who briefed them on the inner workings of the federal government.

Records and interviews show Medawar repeatedly trumpeted his access to Washington big-shots when discussing his project with journalists and selling it to potential investors in his company, Steeple Enterprises.

Spokesmen at two nonpartisan watchdog groups in Washington said Rohrabacher may have crossed an ethical line when he helped the producer set up meetings with congressmen and government officials after accepting money for the screenplay.

Not much, if anything, ever came of the CNMI film office.
More Trips To Washington

In March 1997, Governor Tenorio, his wife Sophie, and CNMI officials Brenda Tenorio and David Ecret took another trip to Washington on taxpayer’s dollars. On March 5, 1997 Dana Rohrabacher held a reception for them in the Rayburn Building. Grover Norquist of Americans also treated the group to a reception for Tax Reform.

In October 1997 Tenorio traveled again to meet with Abramoff’s army in the Congress including Newt Gingrich (R-GA), Don Young (R-Alaska) Tom Delay (R-TX), Dick Army (R-TX), Jesse Helms (R-NC), and, of course, Dana Rohrabacher. During this trip Abramoff arranged for Governor Tenorio, his wife, Sophie, David Ecret (the governor’s special assistant for telecommunications and utilities) and the rest of his party to travel to Mississippi to meet with the Choctaw Indians. Billing records indicate that they were in Mississippi for three days. Once back in Baltimore/Washington, billing records indicate the trip including attending “a game” where the CNMI visitors were “introduced to guests.” (Red Skins vs. Dallas Cowboys?)

Manipulating the Media
One of the A-team’s strategies in defending the CNMI’s dysfunctional labor and immigration system was to plant stories in major newspapers and periodicals portraying the CNMI’s guest worker program as a model that should be hands off for federal intervention. Some of newspaper columnists and writers bribed by junkets to write positive articles included: Doug Bandow from the Cato Institute, Don Feder a conservative columnist, L. Brent Bozell, Chairman of the Media Research Center, Marlo Lewis of Competitive Enterprise Institute, Daniel Mitchell of the Heritage Institute, Peter Flaherty, President of the National Legal and Policy Center, Helle Bering-Jensen, deputy editor of the editorial page of the Washington Times, Clint Bolick of the Institute for Justice, and David Dickson for the Washington Times.
Doug Bandow from the Cato Institute and Peter Ferrara from Americans for Tax Reform were accused of taking payments from lobbyist Jack Abramoff in exchange for pro-CNMI op-ed stories that ran in the Washington Times and other papers. Clint Bolick wrote pro-CNMI pieces for the Wall Street Journal and Human Events. Helle Bering-Jensen, deputy editorial page editor of the Washington Times returned from Saipan and wrote a positive editorial as did David Dickson. I actually called the Washington Times and talked to one of the junket-takers in 1997 asking them if they would like documentation, reports and correspondence from guest workers to show another side of the CNMI. He was not interested.
It has been suggested that CNMI columnists Charles Reyes and John DelRosario may have been paid for their regular anti-Stayman, anti-federalization, anti-advocate columns too. (In fact Charles Reyes, currently the PIO for Governor Fitial, is mentioned in the billing records.)
Another person who wrote often and spoke often on behalf of the CNMI was not a journalist or member of a think-tank, but was Congressman Dana Rohrabacher. The former Reagan speechwriter wrote letters to the editor, newspaper articles, floor speeches, and “Dear Colleague” letters to support the agenda of the CNMI and defend his pal Jack Abramoff.

The CNMI government and Jack Abramoff went over the deep end when they learned that Reader’s Digest was interviewing me for a story on the abuses in the CNMI. The story threatened to bring world-wide attention to the abuses happening under the U.S. flag. The author, Henry Hurt traveled to Florida to interview me and to the CNMI to conduct extensive interviews with guest workers, advocates, and CNMI and US officials. The story, Shame on American Soil was to be published in June 1997, but billing records show that Abramoff had a pal working within the Digest and received an advance copy.

The lobbyist joined the CNMI government in a strategy to denounce the advocates, defame the author, and minimize or deny the abuses of the victims. They were so obsessed with the story that billing records for 1997 show that the lobbying firm billed for hundreds of hours in damage control for that one story costing the CNMI taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars. It would have been more cost effective to do the right thing and stop the problem instead of always focusing on damage control.

Congressman Rohrabacher had a prominent role in leading the Reader’s Digest attack. The Washington Times printed the entire Reader’s Digest story on June 20, 1997. Soon afterwards Congressman Rohrabacher sent a letter to the editor denouncing the article and claiming that “The Northern Marianas are a land of opportunity.” Among his lies were these words:

It [Readers Digest story] paints a hideously false picture of the general situation there.

Mr. Rohrabacher was wrong to support a corrupt system that looks at the indentured guest workers as disposable commodities, rather than as future citizens. Workers should not be treated like commodities, like coconuts that can be consumed, tossed aside, and replaced with a new one. Federalization was not just a political issue; it was a moral issue.

I responded to the Congressman’s letter with a letter to the editor that was published on July 19, 1997. My remarks included these:

More than 100 congressional staffers, members of Congress, think-tank members and media personnel have enjoyed trips to the CNMI since 1996. Almost all of them were paid for by the CNMI government with mystery funds that have not been appropriated by the CNMI legislature. In fact, the CNMI government has not released information about the origin of the funds.

Mr. Rohrabacher, one of those who participated in a trip, appears to be a victim of hideous distortion – a whitewash by the CNMI government. He claims, “The key to success has been a rejection of dependency on handouts from Washington and an emphasis on encouraging enterprise.”

The Commonwealth has received more than $1 billion from the federal government since 1975 when the covenant was approved. Surely this cannot be seen as a rejection of Washington dollars. The CNMI economy is based on the exploitation of foreign contract workers who make up a majority of the population in the CNMI, pay taxes and cannot vote or serve on juries. While a majority of locals with power and money benefit financially, the unemployment rate of the local population is 14 percent.

Mr. Rohrabacher claims that thousands of foreign contract workers return to their homelands with a couple thousand dollars in their pockets. I would like to see documentation of this ridiculous claim. For the decade I spent in the islands, I witnessed thousands of workers struggling as indentured servants trying to cope with the deductions taken from their pay for recruitment fees. I met few who returned home with even a small amount of money and far more who returned destitute and with broken dreams…

Hundred of foreign contract workers who left their homelands and families for an opportunity to witness democracy and partake in the American dream have become victims on US soil this year alone. The abuses taking place in the CNMI are a disgrace to all Americans, the democratic and humanitarian beliefs that we cherish, and to all that America represents.

Being the very good Abramoff General that he was, Rohrabacher responded with another letter on July 29, 1997. I considered the letter’s closing as a personal attack on me:

I appreciate that Miss Doromal may well have a good heart. But if she doesn’t get her benevolence under control, she might hurt somebody.

It was not me who would be responsible for hurting anyone. It was Abramoff and his anti-federalization army including his General, Congressman Rohrabacher who would inflict major harm on the guest workers of the CNMI. By effectively blocking legislation, he perpetuated the abuses and suffering of many workers for years and years and for additional new workers who could have been spared had legislation passed. Corruption bears a human cost. It bears a financial cost for taxpayers. It bears a moral cost for our country. Rohrabacher should take responsibility for his share of these costs.

Dear Colleague Letters
The Abramoff–CNMI team hired the Hay Group to issue a bogus economic study to prove that increasing the minimum wage would have “a devastating effect on the CNMI economy.” In September 1996, the government contracted the Hay Group under a sole source contract paying them $178,000.00 to write the report. They then promoted ”the findings” like it was an independent research study. Billing records show that Abramoff team consulted with Hay group officials dozens of times in 1996.

Dana Rohrabacher joined fellow junket-taker and Abramoff soldier, Ralph Hall (R-TX) to promote the spurious Hay report. They sent a Dear Colleague Letter denouncing “federal interference” in the CNMI’s Minimum wage and immigration issues. The letter was untruthful as this paragraph illustrates:

In the interest of sharing unbiased data with our colleagues who may have to make decisions affecting all the people of the CNMI we are providing you a copy of the executive summary of the Hay Group report. Their analysis shows that, not, only will raising the minimum wage cause real harm to the local economy, “it will not accomplish the economic and social objectives which proponents of minimum wage increases in the CNMI claim will occur.”

It was not an unbiased report. As billings records show, the CNMI taxpayers paid tens of thousands of dollars for Abramoff team meetings with the Hay Group to prepare the report and the media reports announcing its release. It was a sham. It was part of the lobbying strategy and Rohrabacher lied to his colleagues and to the American people. He inflicted harm upon the foreign contract workers and the local people who earned the minimum wage, which was $3.05 an hour. He showed allegiance to his friends in the garment industry who wanted to keep wages low and profits high by exploiting the foreign workforce.
Congressman Rohrabacher sent another Dear Colleague Letter with co-conspirator, Ralph Hall in April 1999 to protest Congressman Frank’s (R-NJ) introduction of legislation to prevent the CNMI from using the Made in US label and intent to impose tariffs on goods from the CNMI. The Saipan Tribune reported:

“Under the commonwealth covenant, the economy of those islands has benefited and the standard of living has improved. Garment factories that would never dream of locating in a distant island territory have opened because the CNMI permits the use of visiting workers from the Philippines and Guam,” Rohrabacher said.

He underscored that while these foreign workers receive wages below federal standard, they are protected by US labor laws and receive wages far better back home.

Wrong again. The workers were not protected then, and are not protected now. Hopefully, they will be when PL 110-229 goes into effect in June 2009. The U.S. Department of Labor filed cases when a large number of workers were affected or when there were particularly obscene abuses. However, there are thousands of workers who are employed in small businesses or by individuals as domestic helpers, farmers, or fishermen. These cheated workers filed cases with the CNMI Department of Labor (DOL). Some of them waited years for their cases to be heard, some left the islands never having their cases heard. Those that did have their cases heard, rarely received justice. The CNMI DOL issued thousands of administrative orders with monetary judgments against unscrupulous employers. However, the cheated workers never received the money that was owed to them. DOL declared that it was not their job to collect these judgments and workers with no money could not afford to hire attorneys to collect wages.
In July 2007 and December 2007 when I traveled to the CNMI, I assisted in collecting unpaid judgments and administrative orders from the CNMI Department of Labor that represented over $6.1 million in wages and damages owed to cheated guest workers. Some date as far back as 1994, some were as recent as 2007, and some claims were from 1996 and 1999, the years that Rohrabacher visited the islands, and declared them to be a brilliant example of the “free enterprise” system. He fought against legislation that could have ensured the foreign contract workers would be paid for every hour they worked. Most of the cheated workers are still waiting to be paid for their work. Rep. Rohrabacher and other congressional obstructionists need to acknowledge their roles in perpetuating the abuses and suffering. Dana Rohrabacher owes an apology to every worker in the CNMI with an unpaid judgment. He owes an apology to all of the cheated workers who were repatriated to their home countries with empty pockets.
Floor Speeches
In September 1997, Rohrabacher made a speech on the floor of the U.S. House denouncing the words of Representatives George Miller (D-CA), Patsy Mink (D-HI) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) who told the truth about the situation in the islands. They condemned the abuses and backed legislative reform. Billing records indicate that the Abramoff team worked on Rohrabacher’s remarks. Rohrabacher ranted against Miller saying:

Wednesday evening, my colleague from California, Mr. Miller, resumed his nonstop, politically driven attack on the government and people of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The gentleman’s remarks and accusations, along with those of Mrs. Mink and Ms. DeLauro are simply untrue and need to be clarified.

He continued to rage against the Reader’s Digest and a recent Inside Edition story that also exposed unforgivable abuses. The most shameful part of his speech was his statement about “Katrina”, a 16-year-old human trafficking victim who was turned into a sex-slave when she was 14. She was repeatedly sexually abused in a sleazy Saipan club. Rohrabacher said:

I would like to address one final concern raised by my friend in Hawaii, Mrs. Mink. It is in regards to the 16-year-old girl in Hawaii now awaiting resolution of her complaint against a Filipino nightclub owner who hired her to dance nude in his club. Sadly, stories like these are reported all too often in the media today. Incidentally, the Washington Post just ran a similar story in its late August about a Virginia man who pleaded guilty to the importation of teen prostitutes from Canada to work in the streets of our nation’s Capital. Stories like these put the situation in the CNMI into perspective.

Minimizing the devastation of a girl recruited at age 14 to work as a waitress and then was forced to dance nude and perform lewd sex acts on stage is despicable. The CNMI sex trafficking trade is huge when comparing the population of the CNMI to other countries including the United States. The U.S. Department of Justice declared the CNMI as a sex trafficking hot spot in May 2008. We owe that growth in part to obstructionists like Rohrabacher. He can also be credited with contributing to perpetuating the suffering of innocent minors and women.

Congressman Dana Rohrabacher is a disgrace to the United States Congress and to all Americans who possess a conscience and a sense of decency. I knew “Katrina” personally and helped to fight for her to get asylum. Thanks should be given to U.S. Labor Attorney Faye Von Wrangel (a true hero), former Rep. Patsy Mink(D-HI), Senator Daniel Akaka(D-HI), and Rep. George Miller(D-CA) for fighting for this child to obtain asylum and a chance to provide an opportunity for her to erase her American nightmare.

My Filipino husband translated for this child when she testified at the U.S. Senate hearing in March 1998. He said it was one of the hardest things he ever did in his life. To hear the words of a child from his country who suffered horrific abuses on U.S. soil, and then was mocked by members of the U.S. Congress was shocking and heart breaking. Her story was also dismissed and minimized by lobbyists, the governor of the CNMI, and in planted media stories in the CNMI. Rohrabacher should read her written testimony and then tell his constituents and the American people how he could minimize her abuses that were suffered on U.S. soil.

“Katrinia” took the “V.I.P. list” from that club when she left. It is a list of names of the club’s regular customers with their phone numbers. We crosschecked the numbers to identify the customers when last names were omitted. We found that many of the phone numbers were CNMI government offices because many of club’s customers were CNMI officials. Some of them were officials that Rohrabacher met with on Saipan. But Rohrabacher would know about the sleazy CNMI club scene as details of his next CNMI trip reveal.

Another Trip to the CNMI

In February 1999, Rohrabacher returned to the CNMI with another delegation from the Congress. By this time there was a new Governor, Pedro Tenorio. Jack Abramoff was still the lobbyist, and the same strategy to block federalization of the minimum wage and immigration was in place.
I was notified that the trip was being scheduled. Before that trip I wrote a letter to House Resource Committee Chair Don Young (R-Alaska) who was heading the delegation. I asked that he and the other members meet with the guest workers. I also sent three letters from the foreign contract workers including one letter from the Bangladeshi guest workers with 14 pages of signatures. Young and Rohrabacher were quoted in the Saipan Tribune making it clear that they were following the Abramoff play book:

The governor has said he is optimistic that the trip will persuade US lawmakers to go easy on the proposed legislation that will takeaway from the CNMI its labor and immigration policies.

US Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-California) assailed Washington’s insistence to fundamentally change the system in the CNMI instead of helping the local government institute the necessary reforms. “There is no perfect system. Every system will have its flaws, ” he said.

Another Saipan Tribune article written during that junket quotes Rohrabacher’s remarks on the garment industry:

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-California), considered an ally of the commonwealth in the US Congress, threw his support to the sector whose contributions to the island economy he said has spared US taxpayers from putting in more money to assist the local economy.

But like the previous trip, this one was more than a “fact finding mission.” The congressional delegation was treated to an evening of nightclub hopping, visiting first Orchids, a club owned by the current governor, Ben Fitial. Renowned Abramoff researcher, Dengre wrote in a Daily Kos diary:

The delegation arrived on the 18th. Hundreds of foreign contract workers were waiting to meet with them. They had hoped that these Representatives of the US Congress were coming to learn. Instead, the Young delegation ignored them, dismissed them and, in effect, endorsed the abuse. John Bowe’s book [Nobodies], lays out the details of their lazy exploration of charges of labor abuse and he explains the type of fact-finding that the Young CODEL was really after:

“Later that weekend, a group of at least three congress members took their fact-finding mission to a Filipina strip club called Orchids, owned by a local businessman named Benigno Fitial. The club, was popular with local government officials and visiting VIPs looking for a good time. Later, the gang moved on to another club, called Russian Roulette, which featured Russian strippers. According to one source who was professionally obligated to accompany the delegation around the island, “I’ve never seen grown men—they were just like kids!” He reported that he sat next to one congressman, who was neither drinking nor getting into the action, while the others “were running to the back of the place into these little stalls to get blow jobs. That’s why they were there.” I spoke with the congressman he sat next to. He admitted to being in the club but described it not as a strip club but as a karaoke bar. He assured me, “There really wasn’t much going on.” Neither the congressman nor my source were able to remember the names of the allegedly misbehaving congressmen.”

So, there were five Congressmen on the trip. One was the source. At least three went club hopping. At least two US Congressmen were running to the “little stalls” to get blow jobs. Instead of investigating human trafficking, forced prostitution and labor abuse—these Congressmen were giddy sexual tourists.

To review, it could have been:
Don Young (AK-AL)
Dana Rohrabacher (CA-46)
John Doolittle (CA-04)
Collin Peterson (MN-07)
Ken Calvert (CA-44)

This should become a national a guessing game: Who got “serviced” in Saipan?

Do the American people want to be represented by members of Congress who can be swayed by lobbyists to write floor speeches and “Dear Colleague” letters that support their clients’ agendas – agendas that are counter to American ideals? Do we want to be represented by elected officials who conspire with journalists to manipulate the press? Do we need more elected officials who waste taxpayers’ dollars by taking junkets for the purpose of self-gratification under the guise of  fact-finding? Do we want to pay the salaries of those representatives who would deny or minimize the existence of human rights and labor rights abuses, thus putting innocent men, women and children in harms way?

What Abramoff, the CNMI government, and the congressional co-conspirators pushed was the idea that the abuses were “old news.” Sadly, the reality is that the abuses never stopped. The names may have changed, but the same abuses kept repeating over and over and over. Every week the CNMI papers report on labor cases filed by EEOC, the U.S. Department of Labor or individual guest workers. Guma Esperansa, a shelter for trafficked women, reported 50 cases just last year. These are women who may not have been placed in such a terrible situation if federal legislation had not been blocked by people like Rohrabacher.

Support for Fitial

Like all of Abramoff’s key Congressional co-conspirator’s, Rohrabacher took out a full page ad in a Saipan paper supporting Fitial for his 2001 run for governor. It is not clear if Abramoff or Rohrabacher paid for the ad. If the lobbying firm did, that would mean that the CNMI taxpayers took out an ad for Fitial because they paid the lobbying bill. An August 27, 2001 Marianas Variety article declares:

One of the US Congress’ most outspoken advocate of human rights and democracy is throwing his full support to house Speaker Benigno Fitial’s quest to be the next Governor of the Northern Marianas. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher of California, a senior member of the US House Committee on International relations threw his support behind Fitial, whom he described as a visionary and a leader.

How many other candidates did Rohrabacher support with a full page newspaper ad?

Abramoff and Rohrabacher – BFF

In 1998 Rohrabacher wrote a letter to the editor of The Hill defending lobbyist Abramoff and the CNMI stand against federalization. The Hill had previously written a report on Abramoff’s “secret memo” that exposed his questionable lobbying plan with the CNMI. Rohrabacher said in part:

The title of the Hill’s March 25 article about lobbying for the Northern Mariana Islands (“Memo raises questions about Marianas lobbying”) hinted at some skull-duggery, but the only thing the memo indicated was that Jack Abramoff is one heck of a public relations man.

Actually, the memo indicated that Abramoff and quite a few members of Congress, think tank representatives, journalists and others were engaging in a very unethical plan.
Abramoff and Rohrabacher did not just share the same political beliefs, they were social friends too. He was on the “FOO” ( friends of the owner) list at Abramoff’s Signature’s Restaurant so he was able to get pricey meals for free. The New York Times reported:

Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican who said he had been friends with Mr. Abramoff for two decades and did not shy away from his hospitality.

Mr. Rohrabacher, whose name bears the “FOO Comp” designation on the customer list, said he ate at Signatures at Mr. Abramoff’s expense once or twice a month and that the meals fell under the friendship exemption in House rules. He also said he tried to take Mr. Abramoff out regularly, paying for the lobbyist’s meals in return.

“Just because you are a member of Congress doesn’t mean you have to give up your friendships,” Mr. Rohrabacher said, adding that “it was dinner with a friend and I didn’t think of it as a gift.”

It was Rohrabacher who served as a reference when Abramoff applied for a $60 million loan to purchase the Florida Sun Cruz Casino fleet. That deal landed the lobbyist in jail.
In 2004, when Rohrabacher’s wife was expecting triplets, Abramoff offered the Signatures Restaurant for their baby shower.
In 2006 when Abramoff was being sentenced, Congressman Rohrabacher penned a letter of support to the judge defending his friend (as did his pal Ben Fitial).
Abramoff and Rohrabacher go way back. In a Crew article Rohrabacher is quoted as saying they met when Rohrabacher was a White House speech writer in the 1980s and Abramoff was the chairman of the College Republicans. They worked together in organizing a terrorist summit in Jamba Angola, the home of Savimbi’s UNITA movement.
Over the years Abramoff and his clients donated $21,000 in campaign contributions to Congressman Rohrabacher. Charles Reyes wrote a Saipan Tribune column soliciting campaign contributions for the CNMI’s pals in Congress including Rohrabacher:

How do we influence Washington without a non-voting delegate (or other forms of official representation)? How do we make democracy work for us?

The answer is rather simple: Give money, make political campaign contributions. Support our friends in Washington, D.C. Financially support the political candidates who have helped us remain free, who oppose a federal takeover, who understand our existing political and economic realities.

Support the friendly Republicans. Support George W. Bush for President. Support Tom Delay. Support Dana Rohrabacher. Give to Dick Armey. Give “soft money” to the Republican National Committee.

The Damage
A CNMI reform bill, the Northern Mariana Islands Implementation Act (S 1052) was introduced by Republican Senator Frank Murkowski and Democrat Senator Daniel Akaka in 1999 and unanimously passed the Senate in February 2000.

However, Dana Rohrabacher joined convicted felon Jack Abramoff, Bob Schaffer, Tom Delay, John Doolittle, Don Young, Dick Pombo, Brian Bilbray, and other conspirators to block that legislation. He stood in the way of justice for the foreign contract workers. It wasn’t until May 2008, that PL 110-229, a law to apply federal immigration laws to the CNMI, was finally passed. (Rohrabacher did not vote for it.) It would have passed eight years earlier if the obstructionists like Rohrabacher had not blocked it. His actions perpetuated the suffering of thousands of victims of labor and human rights abuses as more workers were abused under the corrupt and unjust system.

Corruption has a human face. To me the victims of the abuses are not statistics, or throw away lives to be sacrificed to support the garment industry or promote an “economic miracle of the free market system” as Abramoff loyalists like Dana Rohrabacher have declared. I lived with these people, I worked with them, and many are my dear friends. It breaks my heart when I think of all of the workers who were scammed, cheated, abused and sent home without justice or a penny in their pockets. What happened in the CNMI is a scar on the face of democracy and the reputation of America, the flagship of human rights in the world.I know the human face of corruption. I met hundreds of victims who suffered abuse. I met Bangladeshi men who sold their homes and land to pay a $7,000 recruitment fee to work in the United States. When they arrived in Saipan there was no employer and no job. I met dozens of rape victims. I met workers with serious diseases like tuberculosis that were not being treated even though the law states employers must bear the cost of employee’s health care. I met a child who was recruited from the Philippines at age 14 to dance and perform lewd sex acts on stage. I met a Bangladeshi man who stared into my video camera with hauntingly sad eyes and declared, “We are all going to die. We have no food, no place to sleep.” I met a young farmer who was tortured by his employer. They pushed the end of a shotgun into his neck and burned him with cigarettes. I met hysterical women who were forced to be prostitutes then locked in shipping containers at night; scammed victims who never received a penny because employers said they were saving their money or it was going to recruitment fees. I met maids and farmers who were employed by people who were on food stamps and had no income to pay them. I met a young woman who worked in a garment factory and became pregnant. She was told she must have an abortion in one of the underground clinics on Saipan or return to China to have an abortion. I met the daughter of a Nepalese man who was despondent because he could not collect the money he was owed from his employer. He set himself on fire outside the CNMI Department of Labor and later died. Sadly, the abuses were allowed to continue because effective legislation was not passed. Dana Rohrabacher owes an apology to every worker and every family member of every worker who suffered under the corrupt system he praised and supported.

On February 8, 2007, I attended the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Hearing concerning immigration issues in CNMI. I was struck as Kyleen, a young Filipina woman, testified that she was a victim of human trafficking for Saipan’s sex trade. Her heart-wrenching testimony reminded me of another testimony from the 1998 Senate Hearing. At that hearing, a young 16-year-old Filipina girl, “Katrina”, testified to the same horrific story. Would Kyleen have been testifying if Congress had acted then? Would “Katrina” have been testifying if Congress had acted in 1995 when I testified to the same story on behalf of dozens of other trafficked young women? We can blame Abramoff and the CNMI for delaying reform, but we must also blame the members of Congress like Dana Rohrabacher. He stood on the floor of the House and attacked the proponents of reform and minimized the suffering of victims. Dana Rohrabacher needs to apologize to Katrina, Kayleen, and every one of the hundreds of other trafficked women who have endured unspeakable abuses.

In July 2007, December 2007 and July and August 2008, I interviewed hundreds of foreign workers on the three major islands in the CNMI. Many have lived and worked there for 10, 15, 20, 30 or more years. Many of them recall the years of the junkets with resentment and scorn, saying the members who traveled on the Abramoff-endorsed trips had no interest in speaking to them or hearing their cries for justice. These members of the U.S. Congress were there to pretend there were no abuses and back the CNMI-Abramoff agenda. Dana Rohrabacher was one of them, and he owes all of these people an apology.For decades the Commonwealth government abused the privilege of maintaining local control of immigration and the minimum wage by firmly establishing an elitist, exclusive government and society. The system fed the pockets of leaders, politicians and businessmen while exploiting the powerless and the voiceless. Today, as it was when I left the islands, foreign contract workers and their U.S. citizen children make up the majority of the population of the CNMI, but live as a disenfranchised underclass. While they contribute to the good of society and pay taxes, they have no voice in decisions that will affect them, cannot serve on juries, and are excluded from some government social programs. Today there are about 50,000 people in the CNMI with less than half of the adult population being eligible to vote. The last time the workers outnumbered the citizens on U.S. soil it was called slavery. Yet, this is the system Dana Rohrabacher upheld.

Yes, reform legislation has finally passed, years after it should have been passed and without the vote of Dana Rohrabacher. There is still much work to be done to ensure protections for the foreign contract workers and their U.S. citizen children. We should not have members in the U.S. House who have made excuses for sexual slavery, indentured servitude, and human rights abuses. There are grave issues that face our nation today. We need members of Congress with the integrity, honesty and the moral character required to make decisions that will positively impact all of our lives. We do not need another member of Congress who can be influenced by lobbyists and special interests to the determent of every person who lives and works on U.S. soil. Our country needs moral leadership. Dana Rohrabacher, like other Abramoff soldiers, appears to be morally bankrupt. He is unfit to be a member of the U.S. Congress.


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official political troubadour of Anaheim and most other OC towns. Regularly makes solo performances, sometimes with his savage-jazz band The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.