Northern Mariana Islands Governor political future further imperiled by criminal charges
The Northern Mariana Islands Attorney General has filed criminal charges against Governor Ralph DLG Torres ®, who is now facing twelve counts of misconduct in public office, one count of theft, and one count of contempt.
Torres allegedly used CNMI funds of over $20,000 to purchase business or first class airline tickets as well as other premium travel arrangements for him and the first lady, Dianne T. Torres between April 12, 2018, and May 30, 2019. This falls under the CNMI law 1 CMC § 7407(f) which states, “Any government employee who causes an airline ticket to be issued in violation of this section shall pay a civil fine of one thousand dollars.”
In relation to the counts of misconduct in public office, his acts are punishable under 6 § CMC 3202 which says, “Every person who, being a public official, does any illegal act under the color of office, or willfully neglects to perform the duties of his or her office as provided by law, is guilty of misconduct in public office, and upon conviction thereof may be imprisoned for a period of not more than one year, or fined not more than US$1,000, or both.”
The count of contempt refers to Governor Torres’ failure to appear before a House committee after being subpoenaed. His acts are in violation of 1 CMC § 1306 (a) (1) and can be made punishable by 1 CMC § 1307.
Attorney General Edward Manibusan notes, “[t]he charges follow months of thorough investigation by the Office of the Attorney General Investigation Division. The next steps in the process will be to have Governor Torres arraigned and allow the case to proceed in accordance with the criminal justice system.”
The criminal charges come after on January 12, 2022, Torres was impeached by the CNMI House of Representatives. The House is controlled by Democrats and Independents, while the Senate is a Republican majority that aligns with the Republican governor. With an impeachment, Torres will also face a legislative trial in front of the CNMI Senate.
If Torres is convicted in his Senate trial, he will be the first sitting CNMI governor to be removed from office. This trial could effectively derail any political future for the governor given that he is fighting two battles, one in the criminal sphere, one in the Senate. This impeachment is taking place during the islands’ 2022 general election. Governor Torres has already announced his intention to run for re-election. However, the result of his impeachment and criminal trials could have a detrimental effect on his hopes for re-election.