A new report by the U.S. Department of Interior details allegations of sexual harassment and the misuse of government funds that led to the downfall of Tony Babauta, the former assistant secretary of insular affairs at the Department of Interior.
Two years ago, the Guam native was the highest ranking Pacific Islander in the Interior Department, the federal agency that manages the affairs of U.S. Pacific territories like Guam and American Samoa.
A report published last week concluded that Babauta wrongly awarded two grants worth over $450,000 to the University of Guam, which is run by his former employer Robert Underwood.
The money allegedly went to support a program run by a longtime friend of Babauta who spent more than $32,000 on expenses that weren’t allowed under the terms of the grants.
Despite the critical conclusions, Babauta said in a statement that the report “reaffirms that my official acts and decisions as Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Insular Areas were legitimate endeavors to improve the quality of life for areas under my responsibility.”
He said he recognized the “appearance of conflicts” and was embarrassed by some of the personal references in the report. He added that he “looks forward to opportunities to return to public service.”
The report says Babauta defied the advice of his colleagues and directed grant money to the University of Guam to support the Micronesian Center for a Sustainable Future, which holds conferences for leaders in Micronesia.
The investigation found that the Micronesian center’s project coordinator, a close friend of Babauta’s who is not named in the report, allegedly spent $32,636.34 of the federal money on gifts, rental cars and other expenses that were not permitted.
The expenses included $4,950 for a dinner and $2,220 for 12 executive chairs.
According to Pacific Daily News, University of Guam President Robert Underwood denied that the grants were wrongly awarded.
In response to the investigation, Babauta’s successor, acting Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairs Eileen Sobeck, cancelled the remaining funding, returning $378,818.
The misuse of funds at the University of Guam was just one several allegations against Babauta detailed in the report.
A female employee of the Office of Interior Affairs also said that Babauta pressured her into pursuing a contract with the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement.
Although she didn’t think the contract was needed, she said Babauta asked her to arrange it. She speculated that it might be due to his political aspirations and the organization’s links to U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye.
In addition to misdirecting federal funds, the report details Babauta’s alleged misuse of government equipment, including cars, and mistreatment of his employees.
Several of them described Babauta as a bully who discriminated against older men in the office.
Women complained of inappropriate comments and advances from Babauta, with one saying that he told her she had a “hot ass.”
Another employee said he saw Babauta touch the shoulder of a female employee and whisper in her ear. The woman reacted by cursing and reminding him she wasn’t his wife.
Babauta also allegedly made a comment about her shoes, calling them, “hooker heels.”