Interior Official Charged in Abramoff Probe

An official with the US Department of the Interior has been charged with a misdemeanor account of falsely claiming that he did not receive any prohibited gifts in 2003 in a financial filing. Roger G. Stillwell told the Washington Post that he had accepted gifts from disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, including free dinners at Abramoff’s restaurant and free tickets to Redskins’ games, though Stillwell claims the Post misquoted him, according to the Legal Times.

Stillwell is the desk officer for the Mariana Islands in the Interior Department’s Office of Insular Affairs, and the Post reports that before Stillwell took a position with the Interior Department, his communications firm did work on behalf of the Marianas government. Abramoff worked on behalf of the Marianas government and its garment industry to ensure that Congress would not pass laws to upgrade wages and working conditions for immigrant laborers, according to an investigative report in Ms. magazine.

The Marianas are subject to US laws, but are exempt from US minimum wage requirements and most provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Currently, some 30,000 temporary “guestworkers” Ñ predominately women Ñ from China, the Philippines, and Thailand sew clothing for top-name American brands, which are then allowed to label the clothes Made in Saipan (USA), Made in Northern Mariana Islands (USA) or Made in the USA. Reduced to little more than indentured servants due to the high recruitment fees and the low minimum wage, many of these women have been subjected to long working hours (some up to 20 hours a day or even off the clock), and poor living conditions, according to Ms..

Representatives George Miller (D-CA), Hilda Solis (D-CA), and John Spratt (D-SC) introduced a bill earlier this month gradually increase its minimum wage (currently $3.15) until it reaches the federal minimum wage of the US and to follow the US Immigration and Nationality Act as if it were a state. The bill also prohibits the use of the “Made in the USA” label on any products leaving the Marianas unless “the minimum wage was paid to the workers, all labor laws were obeyed, and no indentured servitude was allowed.”

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Washington Post 6/29/06; Legal Times 6/29/06; Ms. Magazine Spring 2006

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