Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Ricardo J. Bordallo: trouble in paradise

Image from guampedia.com

The tiny island of Guam might seem like an unlikely contributor to political corruption in the United States, and any incident causes less of a stir in the country than federal or state matters. Guam is located 3,700 miles west of Hawaii, or three-quarters of the way to the Philippines, and is across the International Date Line. The 212-square-mile island was captured by the United States in 1898 during the Spanish-American War, lost to Japan in 1941 during World War II, and retaken in 1944 during the same war.

Important as a site of strategic military bases, Guam was previously under control the U.S. Naval Administration before the Guam Organic Act transferred administrative duties to the Department of the Interior. As a territory of the United States, the inhabitants of the island, made up mostly of the indigenous Chamorro population, have a government that can be viewed as either quasi-independent or lacking in certain rights. Guam residents were declared U.S. citizens in the Guam Organic Act, and they can vote in presidential primaries but not the election itself; later, a nonvoting delegate would be able to represent the island in the House of Representatives. Important to the case of Ricardo Jermone Bordallo, Guam's residents began electing their own governors in 1970, ending the practice of the presidential appointments to the office. Also important in Bordallo's history is the fact that the U.S. federal district court system can try cases related to Guam.

Bordallo was born in 1927 in Agana, the island's capital. He was attending high school when Japanese forces invaded in 1941, forcing the school to shut down. Following the war, Bordallo attended San Francisco University, but returned after three years to work for Bordallo Incorporated, the family business. Eventually, Bordallo came to own a successful automobile company and became involved in business pursuits in several fields, including tourism, finance, real estate, housing, and publishing. Less successful was an attempt to start a tourist resort in Chalan Pago/Yona during the 1970s. After two Japanese corporations pulled out of the deal, Bordallo was left owing millions in land investments.

When he was 24, Bordallo ran for a seat in the territorial legislature during the 1952 election. Although the minimum age to serve in the body was 25, he was able to argue that his campaign was still legitimate because he would be of age by the time he took office if he was elected. He was unsuccessful in that year, as well as 1954, but was elected in 1956. He was re-elected in the next seven contests.

Bordallo was a member of the Popular Party, and chaired the party for one year after it was reorganized as the Guam Democratic Party in 1960. In 1968, the Elective Governorship Act allowed Guam citizens to choose their own governors. The governor and lieutenant governor would run on the same ticket for a four-year term, and could serve two consecutive terms; after that, the ticket would have to sit out an election period before it would be allowed to run again. In 1970, the first year the new election took place, Bordallo was nominated to run with Richard Taitano, another legislator. However, the duo lost to the Republican ticket of Carlos Camacho, the appointed Governor, and running mate Kurt Moylan. However, the presence of two Republican contenders in 1974 allowed Bordallo and running mate Rudolph Sablan to assume office.

Bordallo was immediately confronted with economic problems from the oil embargo and a slump in tourism. Adding to the difficulties were super typhoon Pamela, which devastated the island in 1976, and the influx of some 100,000 refugees from the Vietnam War. These last two factors both served to heighten Bordallo's concern with the island's infrastructure; the refugees, using Guam as a staging area if not a permanent new home, represented a dramatic increase in population, which stood at about 85,000 in 1970. Following the typhoon, Bordallo managed to secure $367 million for recovery and infrastructure, which went toward transportation and sewer projects, constructing a hospital, and tourism developments at Tumon Bay. Despite these efforts, Bordallo lost the 1978 election, where he ran with Dr. Pedro Sanchez, an educator and historian.

Four years later, Bordallo was once again back in office after a successful bid with Edward Diego Reyes, an Air Force Colonel. In this term, Bordallo pushed for improved education, including the accreditation of the University of Guam. He also invested $1.2 million to create the Adelup administrative facility, which is now named in his honor. Bordallo was also a strong proponent of commonwealth status for Guam, which would increase the degree of self-government on the island. He helped draft the Guam Commonwealth Act in 1986; the document was presented to Congress in 1988, but ultimately drifted through the next eight years with no result.

In September of 1986, three days before the Democratic primary, Bordallo was dealt a blow when he was indicted on 11 criminal corruption charges, along with his assistant chief of staff. The Governor was charged with selling his influence in exchange for government contracts or approvals. Bordallo suggested that a Republican conspiracy was at work, but also that the investigation "reeks of colonialism and even racism." Expanding on the idea, he said, "When the United States Attorney decides to call together the grand jury to indict the leader of the territory on the eve of an election, it is a direct challenge to our people's right to govern themselves."

The indictment came too late to affect the primary, which Bordallo won. He asked that the trial on the charges be delayed until after the election, but the court refused and set a date for October, 13 days before the contest. The trial did end up getting pushed back, but not for a reason that favored Bordallo: further investigation was needed regarding a $300 million municipal bond issue. When November came, Bordallo lost to Joseph Ada and his running mate, Frank Blas.

Shortly after the defeat, a superseding indictment was handed down against Bordallo charging him with six additional criminal counts related to the bond issue. All told, he was accused of extortion, bribery, wire fraud, witness tampering, attempted extortion, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and conspiracy to commit extortion and bribery. The new charges were a result of a plea agreement by John D. Gilliam, Bordallo's economic adviser, who had provided evidence as part of his guilty plea to wire fraud. The bond, which aimed to support low-cost housing, was essentially backed by fake firms and con men and bilked Guamanians out of $14-20 million in tax dollars. Meanwhile, one of the banking firms in the project had sent $70,000 to support Bordallo's re-election campaign.

The other incidents alleged contributions to Bordallo's campaign in exchange for government favors. The largest involved $60,000, funneled through the owner of an engineering firm who supported Bordallo, for the approval of a scrap metal plant. There was also a $10,000 gift from a businessman, a contribution Bordallo acknowledged (perhaps accidentally) at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon. In a third matter, the head of the Guam Telephone Authority, related to Bordallo by marriage, was charged with directing a $9,600 debt payment to a private telephone company to go to Bordallo's re-election fund. Finally, Bordallo was accused of awarding a government contract for a $103,000 project to another engineering firm on the condition that it hired his campaign manager.

In February of 1987, a jury found Bordallo not guilty of the charges related to the faulty bond. However, he was found guilty on 10 of the counts, charging bribery, extortion, conspiracy to commit extortion, conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and witness tampering. He was sentenced to serve nine years in prison with five years of probation, pay a $35,000 fine, and pay the full $79,600 in corrupt campaign contributions as restitution.

Bordallo appealed the conviction, and won some reprieve. In August of 1988, his convictions on all but two of the counts were overturned after he challenged the jury selection, instructions to the jury, evidentiary hearings, and sufficiency of the evidence. The bribery charges were thrown out in part because the court determined that the statute used in the conviction specifically mentioned state officials and did not apply to Guam's territorial government. However, the court found that there was sufficient evidence to convict Bordallo on the conspiracy to obstruct justice and witness tampering charges, where the Governor had been accused of instructing a witness to lie to the grand jury.

Despite these troubles, Bordallo continued to do political work. He spearheaded a group of delegates attending the 1988 Democratic National Convention, where he said there was sympathy among the group for Jesse Jackson due to Jackson's support of self-determination for the United States territories. Bordallo also continued to push the commonwealth bill and speak against casino gambling in Guam.

Meanwhile, Bordallo continued his attempts to purge the last two charges against him, but without success. He was unable to appeal the matter to the Supreme Court. Though his 1988 appeal had succeeded in reducing his sentence, he was still facing four years in prison and was scheduled to depart for a federal prison in California on January 31, 1990.

Instead, Bordallo chose to emulate R. Budd Dwyer, who had chosen his own future just weeks before Bordallo's conviction in 1987. About three hours before his flight, the former Governor drove to a busy intersection in Agana. He chained himself to a statue of Kepuha (or Quipuha), the first indigenous chief to adopt Christianity. He also placed four placards around him, as well as Guam's flag (though some accounts say he wrapped himself in the banner). Bordallo then shot himself in the head with a .38-caliber revolver, dying soon after of massive brain trauma at a hospital. The placards contained different statements lamenting the loss of Chamorro control of the island and proclaiming Bordallo's own love for Guam. One read, "I regret that I only have one life to give to my island."

Bordallo's widow, Madeline, whom he had married in 1953, ran unsuccessfully for Governor in the same year of her husband's death. She was later elected Lieutenant Governor and currently serves as Guam's delegate to the House of Representatives.

Sources: The Central Intelligence Agency's World Factbook, The Department of the Interior Office of Insular Affairs, The United States Census Bureau, "100,000th Refugee Is Honored" in the St. Petersburg Times on May 14 1975, "Guam Governor Indicted On Bribery Charges" in The Free-Lance Star on Sept. 3 1986, "Guam's Governor Indicted On Bribery Charges" in the Mohave Daily Miner on Sept. 3 1986, "Indicted Democrat Defeated In Bid To Be Guam Governor" in the New York Times on Nov. 7 1986, "Guam Lobbies Convention For Self-Rule Status" in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Jul. 21 1988, "Ex-Guam Governor Kills Himself On Eve of Jailing For Corruption" in the New York Times on Feb. 1 1990, "Governor Commits Suicide" in the Manila Standard on Feb. 1 1990, "Nation: Guam Governor Wins Re-Election" in the Los Angeles Times on Nov. 6 1990, United States of America v. Ricardo Bordallo, Destiny's Landfall: A History of Guam by Robert F. Rogers, "Governor Ricardo J. Bordallo" by Nicholas Quinata in Guampedia

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