POLITICS
02/11/2013 06:11 pm ET Updated Feb 11, 2013

Benigno Fitial, Northern Mariana Islands Governor, Impeached By House In Massage Scandal

The governor of the Northern Mariana Islands was impeached last week by the territorial House on 13 articles, among them that he had a federal prisoner released in order to give him a massage, The Saipan Tribune reports.

Gov. Benigno Fitial (R) was hit with 13 articles of impeachment last week, connected to allegations of corruption. The proceeding follows an unsuccessful attempt to impeach Fitial several years ago. Fitial is an ally of former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who went to prison on corruption charges following lobbying efforts he made on behalf of the Northern Mariana Islands and tribal gaming issues.

Among the charges, Fitial is accused of having his private masseuse released without permission from a federal prison in 2010 in order to give him a massage. The Saipan Tribune reports that Fitial said that he did not know about the masseuse's incarceration until he called her to relieve back pain that he said only she could cure.

Other charges against Fitial include neglect of duty and corruption.

The case of Fitial now moves to the nine-member Territorial Senate, where six members will need to vote in favor of at least one of the articles to remove the governor from office. If Fitial is removed, Lt. Gov. Eloy Inos (Convenant Party) would replace him for the remainder of the term, which expires at the end of 2014. Fitial's spokesman told Guampdn.com that he would defend himself in the Senate.

"Should the proceedings move up to the Senate, then it will be the appropriate time and forum for the governor to respond to the articles lodged against him," the Fitial spokesman told Guampdn.com.

Fitial is the first territorial governor to be impeached in American history. First elected in 2005, he was reelected in 2009 to a newly created five-year term. Fitial, a former territorial House speaker, was elected twice as a member of the Convenant Party and became a Republican in 2011.

The last U.S. governor to be impeached and removed from office was Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) in 2009 on charges that he tried to sell President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat. In 1988, then Arizona Gov. Evan Mecham (R) was impeached and removed on corruption charges. The first U.S. governor to be impeached was Kansas Gov. Charles Robinson (R) in 1862, but he was not removed from office by the state Senate.

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