IPI not making good on payroll obligations as workers wait for checks

closeup of a man checking payroll with a calculatorIf Imperial Pacific International (IPI) can’t even make payroll, it’s unclear how casino regulators and lawmakers can expect it to pay millions of dollars in outstanding license fees and other financial obligations. It seems that, after already being unable to pay employees and being forced to put funds into a special employee payroll account, the embattled casino operator behind Saipan’s Imperial Palace in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) is up to its standard modus operandi and has, once again, failed to pay its employees.

According to Marianas Variety (MV), IPI acknowledged that it doesn’t have the money right now to cover its payroll because of “funding challenges,” reportedly leaving employees without a month’s worth of income. The delay is said to cover the period running from October 9 to November 6, and IPI’s CEO, Donald Browne, sends his apologies to employees for the delay. There was no word on whether or not the delay affected only low-level workers, or if salaried executives were impacted, as well.

The lack of cash to pay its employees is just the latest in a recognized, standard pattern at IPI, and lawmakers may finally be out of patience. Tina Sablan, a member of the CNMI’s legislature, told MV, “IPI has repeatedly violated local and federal labor laws, employment contracts, and the casino commission’s order to reserve funds for payroll and avoid continuing delays. This is completely unacceptable. I feel for the employees of IPI who have endured these payroll delays and payless paydays for months now. I feel for the former employees who have also been waiting for termination pay, repatriation tickets, and other benefits owed for months. I feel for all the workers from previous years who are still owed wages and compensation for work they have done and injuries they have suffered.”

Imperial Palace closed in March due to COVID-19, and it isn’t clear when things will return to normal. The huge resort had been undergoing expansion prior to the coronavirus pandemic and that project has seen a number of setbacks, as well. It already is on the hook for as much as $5.6 million to a former contractor, Pacific Rim Land Development, LLC, and recently became the target of another lawsuit from a different contractor who is still waiting to be paid. IPI is said to already owe as much as $37 million in regulatory and other fees, in addition to the contractor bills, with no clear picture of how it can recover. It was recently given the chance to allow an investor to cover the Pacific Rim bill while it contests the amount in court, but that doesn’t come close to covering everything it owes.

The expansion recently came to a halt when the CNMI’s Department of Public Works (DPW) ordered construction to halt due to unspecified concerns. IPI explained that it was nothing more than a paperwork snafu and said this week that it has submitted all the documentation that had been requested. The DPW is reportedly now reviewing the documents before deciding how to proceed.

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