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Tugboat, barges project likely cost two men their jobs

fili@samoanews.com

Port Administration deputy director Chris King testified under oath that an internal panel had recommended that Port official Henry Ledoux be terminated for his role in the alleged leasing of an excavator which was purchased as part of the tugboat and barges project.

Along with Carlos Sanchez, the governor’s representative for fisheries and marine matters, King had been subpoenaed last Thursday by the Senate Investigative Committee probing the use of the ASG $20 million loan from the ASG Employees Retirement Fund.

Among the projects funded by the loan was the tugboat and barges project, which began with a $3 million allocation but has ballooned to more than $4 million and is expected to increase — as a civil suit against ASG by Marisco Ltd. for more than $800,000 remains unresolved in Honolulu federal court.

Neither man was part of the initial project task force in 2007, however Sanchez was authorized by the governor in December 2009 to take part when the ASG vessels were detained in Honolulu for non-payment of outstanding debt, while King became involved over time with the project through his position at Port.

In last Friday’s edition, Samoa News provided several pieces of information from Sanchez’ testimony, but one point needs to be corrected. Samoa News reported Sanchez telling SIC that each barge was purchased for $50,000. The correct amount is $15,000 each for each barge.

The SIC testimonies from Capt. Wally Thompson, Carlos Sanchez and Nick King shed public light for the first time on issues about the the tugboat and barges project that have been spoken of in the community, but with no official word from the government.

Rumors of suspect purchases with the project’s funding, such as vehicles, computers, DVDs, printers, excavator, and kitchen appliances have been circulating the community since the Marisco lawsuit was filed.

In particular, there were two men mentioned in connection with the project — Fanene So’oto Vitale, who retired; and Henry Ledoux, who was reported to have resigned from Port Administration, then hired at Shipyard Services Authority, and then he resigned from there and left island.

HENRY LEDOUX & FANENE SO’OTO VITALE ALLEGATIONS

While the new ASG excavator was still in Honolulu awaiting shipment to the territory, Ledoux is alleged to have leased the excavator to a Hawai’i company, and information subpoenaed by SIC shows a cost of $35,000 for the lease. It was revealed during the hearing that Ledoux joined the project task force sometime in 2009.

When asked about the excavator and the money Ledoux allegedly received from leasing it, Sanchez testified that when he learned about the excavator being leased, “I asked Henry directly — ‘Henry did you lease the excavator?’ ”

“Ledoux’s response was, “I take blame. He didn’t say ‘I did it’. He just said, ‘I take the blame for it. That was his answer,” said Sanchez, who called Ledoux “his friend.” Sanchez said he didn’t see the actual check payment to Ledoux.

According to Velega’s statement during the hearing, Ledoux had informed SIC that he received only $27,000 — which means there is $8,000 missing.

Both Sanchez and King said they don’t know any information regarding the whereabouts of the $8,000.

(It’s not clear as to how Ledoux conveyed this information to the SIC as he has not testified before the committee, or if he will be testifying.)

King told SIC that when this matter on Ledoux “was brought to my attention on Nov. 8, 2010 — during the investigation of the Marisco case — the ASG lawyer in Hawai’i had forwarded me copies of the cancelled checks made out to... Ledoux for the rental of the excavator, and that documentation was forwarded to the [local] Attorney General’s Office for their files and their investigation as well.”

King said he didn’t see the invoices dealing with the payment on the rental — that is in the hands of the SIC but he got copies of the cancelled checks. He could not recall if the checks totaled $35,000, but said there were different amounts on the two checks.

(The excavator is reported to be now on island having been shipped to American Samoa from Hawai’i via California for $57,000, as reported in last week’s story about Sanchez and King SIC testimonies.)

Sen. Mauga T. Asuega wanted to know if there was at any time a request from the Port Administration director Matagi Ray McMoore, who was also an initial member of the task force, to the AG’s Office for prosecution of anyone involved in this project.

King said that when the Ledoux incident came to his attention, he was Acting Port Director at the time. So as Acting Director, he formed a disciplinary board for the human resources process, to look into this matter. They did their investigation and forwarded their recommendation to the Port Director, said King.

He said the disciplinary board — made up of other Port management staff — conducted their internal investigation and recommended that Ledoux be terminated. He said the recommendation was then forwarded to the Port director, who was by that time back on island. He did not know what happened thereafter to the case.

It was noted in hearings during the exchange between the SIC and the two witnesses that Ledoux had resigned from Port and later went to the ASG Shipyard Services Authority, but also resigned from there. Ledoux is reportedly now residing off-island.

Also raised by the SIC is Fanene So’oto Vitale’s role in this project. According to Sanchez, Fa’anene was an original member of the task force but had no experience in such matters.

Mauga said the expenditure’s report shows there is a reimbursement of $54,000 to an ASG account and then on another line of the report, there is a reimbursement from Fanene for just over $14,000. (At the time of this project, Fanene was special assistant to Matagi.)

Mauga wanted additional information on the “reimbursements”  to which King responded that he didn’t recognize this and wasn’t sure what the reimbursements were for, nor did he know “who reimbursed whom”. 

Mauga also wanted to know if the Port took any action against Fanene, but King said that when this matter for Fanene came up the Port director was back at work and he is not sure of any other actions thereafter. King also said that he knew that Fanene retired, but didn’t know why.

OTHER ISSUES

Samoa News will further report on the SIC testimonies of Sanchez and King in tomorrow’s issue highlighting the suspect purchases with the project’s funding for the tug boat and barges.



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