File Photo

A year in review

A look back at 2018 showed that the drug problem in Palau is still not over. 2018 was a year where the scourge of illegal drugs made headlines. One of the newsmakers on the talks on drugs is multi-millionaire Larry Hillbroom.

On December 28, after spending almost three months in prison, Hillbroom left for Palau to undergo drug therapy in California.  On the day before he was scheduled to travel he passed the required drug test and left early morning Friday to entered drug program in an institution called Recovery Integrity in California.

While the judgment drew flak from the public and officials, several supported that sending drug convicts to rehabilitation has more positive outcome than spending most of their lives in jail.

But Hillbroom’s case just highlighted the flaw in the system, a lack of rehabilitation program on the island and that treatment can be achieved, if you can afford it- the rich go to rehab while the poor goes to jail.

Drug enforcers had some victory in the crime against drugs, Arnold Buck was sentenced to 57 years for several counts of Trafficking a Controlled Substance with Justice Lourdes Materne imposing a punishment of over 50 years against the defendant.

Buck prison term was the longest sentence imposed after the heightened campaign against drugs on Palau.

This wasn’t Buck first run in with drug related crimes; he has been in and out of prison.

Hillbroom’s case was unique. He used to live in the United States was visiting Palau in 2016 when he was arrested for allegedly arranging for two women to smuggle methamphetamine from the Philippines to Palau.

That was not his only arrest for drug use and trafficking, He was again arrested and charged in 2017.

After admitting to drug trafficking, in June 2018, he was sentenced to 10 years’ probation and fined $50,000 as part of a plea bargain.

After Hillbroom entered a plea bargain and escaped jail term in June, he went on the run in July after failing a drugs test while on probation.

In September, instead of a jail term for violation of probation, Associate Justice Lourdes Materne issued a judgment allowing Hillbroom to leave Palau for treatment taking into account his wealth in the decision.

Prosecutors wanted a 30-year sentence but Materne said Hillbroom’s wealth meant he was in a unique position to seek treatment that was unavailable in Palau.

Materne said Hillbroom will have to stay drug free or he would go to jail for  30 years.

Hillbroom, who holds US and Palau passports, is the son of the late Larry Hillblom, co-founder of the freight giant DHL, although their surnames are spelled differently.

He is one of four illegitimate children sired by Hillblom and successfully sued for a share of the billionaire businessman’s fortune after Hillblom died in a plane crash in 1995. (Bernadette H. Carreon)