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DPW employees indicted on federal charges

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by Mindy Aguon

Guam - In 2008 four Department of Public Works employees breathed a huge sigh of relief when criminal charges alleging they had defrauded the local and federal governments were thrown out in the Superior Court. The four were restored to their government jobs, but now four years later this same group of individuals is being charged by the federal government for the same alleged crimes.

Because the four DPW staffers were never tried on fraud charges that were handed down four years ago, the federal government has taken the opportunity to go after the public workers they allege stole from the federal government.

Former chief engineer Liberty Perez, chief planner and public information officer Josephine Torres, and engineer supervisors Danilo Galiza and Ariel Evarola are accused of falsifying records in order to obtain more than $5,000 in overtime compensation for work the feds contend they never actually performed on federally-funded projects.  The four are charged with conspiracy to commit fraud concerning a program receiving federal funds, fraud concerning a program receiving federal funds, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud.

In October 2006, then-governor Felix Camacho signed an executive order that allowed DPW employees such as engineers and other positions to receive overtime for work performed until December 2006.  The indictment alleges that Perez falsely certified that she worked OT in excess of $5,000 between October and December of that year purportedly for her performance on Federal Highway Administration road projects.  Torres was the agency's Chief Planner from June to September 2006 and was then the PIO and was ineligible to receive OT. Perez, Torres, Galiza and Evarola certified that they had worked by allegedly falsifying time sheets and seeking OT compensation.  DPW then acted on the requests for compensation by submitting payment vouchers to FHWA in Hawaii.

In February 2008, the four were charged in the Superior Court with tampering with public records and theft by deception, but three months later the charges were thrown out at the request of prosecutors who admitted they didn't have all the evidence to take the case to trial. The charges were thrown out and the four returned to their positions at the agency. DPW director Joanne Brown confirms that Perez, Torres and Evarola are still employed at DPW. Because it is a personnel matter, brown could not say what administrative action, if any, would be taken against them. 

Galiza meanwhile is an engineer supervisor at the Solid Waste Authority. The federal receiver has sought guidance from the Attorney General's Office on what course of action can be taken against him.

While Perez got her job back along with backpay, she found herself in hot water with the Professional Engineers, Architects and Land Surveyors Board.  In July 2007, she was issued a letter of reprimand and was fined $5,000 for misconduct on the job. A year later in 2008, the PEALS Board found her incompetent in practicing her profession by allowing drilling under Route 2 in Agat, causing substantial erosion damage.  She was also found to have violated the Rules of Professional Conduct by signing-off on certifications for elevator inspectors knowing they did not meet the necessary requirements. The board also found that she had practiced as a structural or civil engineer without being licensed to practice as either.

As a result of the violations, the PEALS Board refused to renew Perez's license. She won't be able to apply for renewal again until November 19 of this year and only after she submits documentation that she has completed the Professional Development Hours in Engineering Ethics course online. The four defendants are scheduled to appear in the District Court next Tuesday to answer to the charges.

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