Joey Cruz with lawyer Janet King

Police Sgt. Joey Cruz, left, with his legal counsel, Janet King, appeared before the House Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Operations on Tuesday.

THE House Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Operations on Tuesday asked Police Sgt. Joey Cruz, the head of the governor's personal security detail, about some of the chief executive’s trips to U.S., among other public expenses.

Cruz, who has been with the Department of Public Safety for about 23 years now, was accompanied by his legal counsel, Janet King.

The committee members present were its chair, Rep. Celina Babauta, Vice Speaker Blas Jonathan Attao, Reps. Vicente Camacho, Donald Manglona, Tina Sablan, Richard Lizama and Edwin Propst.

At the beginning of the hearing, Babauta reminded Cruz that he was not the subject of an investigation.

Asked if he drives the governor to personal or non-officials travels on and off-island, even for political events, Cruz replied that it is his duty and responsibility to provide security to the governor.

If he was in a political gathering, he said he was there to provide security to the governor and not to attend the gathering.

Asked if he went to the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. to pay for the governor's power bills, he said he doesn't recall.

He said he also did not go shopping with the governor. Asked if he ever went fishing with governor, he said no, but he added that he went hiking with the governor in Boise, Idaho.

Justification

Rep. Tina Sablan asked Cruz about members of the personal security detail or PSD dropping off and picking up the governor’s children to school.

“How do you justify that as a public expense then…as a supervisor for the PSDs?” she asked Cruz.

At this point, Cruz’s lawyer, Janet King, told Sablan: “I think that’s not in Officer Cruz’s position to justify doing his job.”

“I beg to differ counsel,” Sablan replied, “but…I think the question goes to his responsibility as a supervisor. If it’s not his job he can say so, but if he does have to justify it in some way to some supervisor as a public expense then he can also explain that.”

According to King, “I think the question should be clarified that it’s asking whether it is justifiable to use public funds in this matter. He has answered that he has done the job. He has answered the questions [about] what he has done. [But answering the question of] whether this is a justifiable use of public funds is this committee’s job and we await the answer to that. It’s not in his position to answer that.”

Babauta then told Cruz, “You can certainly answer yes or no or it’s not [your] position to do so.”

Cruz said: “We’re tasked to safeguard the executive and the first family…. I cannot give you the answer [to the question of] whether it’s authorized…I’m sorry [but] maybe you can ask the department….”

“So it’s above your pay grade then,” Sablan said. “You got the requests or the directions from the governor and you carried them out, and that is your job.”

Meeting in Las Vegas

The committee also showed Cruz a copy of a travel authorization to meet Gary Kuwabara, deputy director of the Western Regional Office, Office of Local Defense, Community Cooperation of the U.S. Department of Defense.

In a reimbursement request, the governor said he met Kuwabara in Las Vegas from April 28 to 30, 2018 for which the governor was reimbursed a total of $16,250.

There was no trip report, the committee said.

Asked if he was present in the meetings the governor attended, Cruz said yes. He said he remembers meeting Kuwabara in one of the trips but he added that he could not recall if there was a meeting between the governor and Kuwabara in Las Vegas.

The committee showed Cruz what it said was a recent letter from Kuwabara to Babauta that included a list of meetings with the governor.

According to the committee, Kuwabara mentioned five separate meetings with governor, but he did not confirm meeting with the governor in Las Vegas, because the “participation was impacted by the federal government shutdown.”

The committee said around this time, the NMI Republican Party held a campaign rally for the Torres-Palacios team in Oregon.

Cruz said he had also been in Las Vegas on a personal trip to play softball.

Babauta said the committee’s questions do not pertain to his personal travels, only to those he made in his official capacity as head of the governor’s personal security detail.

Credit cards

Cruz was also shown 26 different credit card numbers, but he said he doesn't recognize any of them.

He told the committee that he carries only one credit card and none of the credit cards shown to him belonged to him.

As for credit card purchases, he said he recalled that the governor bought a GoPro camera, which Cruz believed was for the governor's public information office.

He also recalled the governor's purchase of a chainsaw that he believed was used by the governor's office staff to help people clean up their premises in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Yutu.

But he said he couldn't recall if the chainsaw in the picture shown to him was the chainsaw bought for the Yutu cleanup.

The committee said the chainsaw in the picture was bought before Yutu hit the island.

Before dismissing Cruz as a witness, the committee thanked him for his 23 years of service.

To sum up the day’s hearing, Babauta said, among other things, that the “records…reflect that Governor Torres submitted reimbursement [requests] with at least three credit or debit cards belonging to…Joey Cruz” who stated that “he has not given Governor Torres any receipts to seek reimbursements on his behalf.”

Reporter

A bachelor of arts in journalism graduate, he started his career as a police beat reporter. Loves to cook. Eats death threats for breakfast.

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