Crisostomo Trial: Evidence Points to His Guilt

April 12, 2014

Expert witnesses in Emie Romero's murder trial have revealed evidence that points to the guilt of defendant Joseph Acosta Crisostomo. The trial in taking place in Saipan Superior Court before Associate Judge Joseph Camacho.

In March 2014 Associate Judge Camacho ordered that one of the experienced co-counsels representing the defendant with attorney Janet King to be present at the trial at all times, since King is inexperienced as a criminal attorney. The co-counsels from Guam are Jeffrey Moots and F. Randall Cunliffe.

Emerita Romero was brutally murdered. Late in the evening on February 5, 2012, Ms. Romero was waiting for a taxi. She allegedly got into Cristostomo's car by mistake. Her lifeless body was found by FBI agents at the abandoned La Fiesta Mall February 7, 2012.

FBI expert, Linda Otterstatter testified that a hair sample taken from Romero's body matched a strand of hair that was found in the car Crisostomo had allegedly been driving the night of her murder. She also testified that black fibers taken from the car matched the leggings that were wrapped around Romero's neck. Additionally, two black-brown polyester fibers taken from the passenger side of the car matched the fibers of Romero's zorie that was found at La Fiesta.

William Bodziak, an expert in footprint, footwear and tire impressions, matched the footprints at La Fiesta Mall to those of defendant Crisostomo saying there was "no difference between the footprint impressions lifted by the FBI at the crime scene and those of Crisostomo."

Former FBI employee, Bodziak is a famed forensic scientist who now runs Florida-based Bodziak Forensics. He also testified at the O.J. Simpson trial, and the Oklahoma and VANPAC bombing trials.

Another witness, Kevin Maratita described Crisostomo's refusal to undergo a lie detector test.

Crisostomo has a lengthy criminal record of robberies, violent assaults, and possession of a controlled substance, among other charges. He is also a suspect in several cold murder cases.

From Pacific News Center:

Deadline on Extension Closer in Political Chess Game

April 10, 2014

U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Thomas Perez has until July 4, 2014 to decide whether or not to renew the flawed CNMI-Only Guest Worker Program. He can extend it for up to five years. Hopefully, if he extends it at all it will be for a year.

CNMI Delegate Gregorio Sablan introduced  H.R. 4296, that would  extend the program by five full years. Five more years of uncertainty and disenfranchisement for the most deserving and loyal immigrants on U.S. soil.

Certainly, the more logical, humane and just move would be to amend the CNRA to provide an immediate obstacle-free pathway to citizenship to all of the CNMI's 12,000 or less legal, long-term nonresident workers.

Any guest worker program that lacks a pathway to citizenship is a program that reduces the workers to labor units. That is exactly what the CNMI-Only Guest Worker Program does. It sucks the humanity from those who fill 90% of the private sector jobs in the CNMI.

But this is political chess, not ethical chess. The Labor Secretary hears from fellow bureaucrats and politicians, and not the nonresidents who have built the CNMI and keep its economy advancing. He has not even visited the CNMI. It is unlikely that he would do the right thing. Hopefully, he will renew the program for a year at the most.

Immigration Reform Debate Drags On . . .

April 10, 2014

Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) declared that "race has something to do with the fact that they're not bringing up an immigration bill."

ABC News reported:
"Pelosi was responding to a question about whether race factors into how Republicans deal with members of the Obama administration. She accused Republicans of being generally disrespectful to members of the administration and to women."
The House speaker said she would "rather see an immigration reform bill pass than win the elections in November."

 The Congressional Hispanic Caucus is pushing for the Obama Administration to give undocumented aliens protection from deportation if they would qualify under the policies outlined in the Senate Bill that passed last July.

Politico reported:
That CHC proposal, Pelosi said, “makes all the sense in the world,” adding that the notion that the administration doesn’t have some prosecutorial discretion on deportations is “ridiculous.” 
Former Republican Florida Governor Jeb Bush who said last week that many of the "illegal immigrants" who come to the U.S. "Do so out of an act of love for their families."

From The Washington Post:
"There are means by which we can control our border better than we have. And there should be penalties for breaking the law," he added. "But the way I look at this -- and I'm going to say this, and it'll be on tape and so be it. The way I look at this is someone who comes to our country because they couldn’t come legally, they come to our country because their families -- the dad who loved their children -- was worried that their children didn’t have food on the table. And they wanted to make sure their family was intact, and they crossed the border because they had no other means to work to be able to provide for their family. Yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony. It’s an act of love. It’s an act of commitment to your family. I honestly think that that is a different kind of crime that there should be a price paid, but it shouldn’t rile people up that people are actually coming to this country to provide for their families."
The former governor is married to a Columba Bush who was born in Mexico.

Bush's comments irked Republican's like Senator Ted Cruz and Speaker John Boehner who have worked to block immigration reform.

An immigration reform bill will likely only pass if the Democrats can take the House and Senate in upcoming elections.

Democrats Push Immigration Reform (Again)

March 25, 2014

The Democrats are trying to force a vote on immigration reform by filing a discharge petition tomorrow. They need 218 votes, which would include at least 24 Republican votes to get the immigration reform bill to the floor.

It is unlikely that they can get the votes that they need, but they will send the message (once again) that it is the Republicans who are blocking immigration reform.

Democrats will meet on the steps of the Capitol to announce the last ditch effort to force Republican leadership to bring immigration reform to a vote.

After the press conference they plan to file the discharge petition to get H.R. 15 heard on the floor.  H.R. 15, which was introduced October 2, 2013 by Rep. Joe Garcia (D-FL),  mirrors the comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate last summer. It has 199 sponsors, three of them are Republicans.

The House Speaker refused to bring the immigration bill to a vote. Republicans favor piecemeal immigration reform where they can push security and enforcement over a pathway to citizenship.

The game-playing Republicans are unlikely to allow the bill to be heard despite the fact that current polls confirm that the vast majority of voters support immigration reform.  One poll confirms that allowing a vote on immigration reform will not hurt Republicans; another confirms that 6 in 10 voters support a pathway to citizenship. 

Fitial's Trial Scheduled for April 30th

March 21, 2014

A roadside sign posted during Fitial's impeachment trial
highlights a few of his many corrupt acts.

Office of the Public Auditor legal counsel Attorney George Hasselback agreed to suspend the arrest warrant for disgraced ex-Governor Benigno Fitial if he voluntarily returned to the CNMI to face seven criminal charges.

CNMI Superior Court Associate Judge David Wiseman quashed the arrest warrant and set Fitial's pretrial hearing date for April 30, 2014. Conditions of his release will be determined at the pre-trial hearing.

From the Saipan Tribune:
Should the former governor fail to appear in court on the designated date and time, the warrant for his arrest will automatically go into full force, Hasselback said. 
Fitial should also agree, in writing, to waive any challenges to extradition if he fails to appear in court on the designated date and time.
The governor fled from the CNMI in February 2013 with his wife, Josie, to avoid facing charges. For over a year Fitial never contacted authorities even though there was an arrest warrant for his arrest.

Only after it was apparent that the CNMI Government would actively seek extradition of the CNMI's number one corruptor-in-chief, did Fitial weave a sob-story about medical issues and family issues keeping him from returning. He agreed to return if the arrest warrant was quashed. Apparently he expects the people of the CNMI to feel sorry for him, even though they are the recipients of his corrupt acts. Who seriously believes that neither he nor his wife could pick up a phone or send off an email explaining circumstances that kept him from returning the CNMI for over a year?

At the Buckingham trial last month Fitial's nephew Jermaine Nekaifes testified against the former CNMI AG Edward Buckingham. Charges against Nekaifes were dismissed in exchange for his testimony. He will also be required to testify against Fitial as a condition of the dismissal.

Fitial Wants to Go Home

March 11, 2014

Poor fugitive Benigno Fitial. The CNMI's ex-governor, number one schemer, top scammer, self-serving corrupter-in-chief wants to "go home" to the Marianas.

Friday, through his newly hired attorney, Stephen Nutting, Fitial broke the silence he has maintained for over a year while hiding in the Philippines.

The ex-governor  fled the CNMI in disgrace to avoid facing criminal charges. The charges against Fitial are: conspiracy to commit theft of services; conspiracy to obstruct justice by interference with service of process; conspiracy to obstruct justice by interference with a law enforcement officer or a witness; theft of services; misconduct in public office; obstructing justice by interference with a law enforcement officer or witness; and obstructing justice by interference with service of process related to the conspiracy to block service of a judicial summons to ex-Attorney General Edward Buckingham.

Now he wants the Superior Court to "quash the warrant of arrest against him" so he can make a voluntary appearance in court to face charges.

The fugitive claims that he was so overwhelmed with his illnesses and family tragedies that he could not communicate with any authorities in the CNMI for over a year.  (Just like he was overwhelmed with back pain so he had to have a masseuse released from federal custody to give him a massage?) I guess his wife could not communicate on his behalf either? Who in their right mind believes any of his jive?

It looks like Fitial saw Buckingham's slap on the hand and figured why not return for his slap. But unlike Buckingham, he'd stay in the CNMI to reap more destruction.

In a declaration filed in  Superior Court on Friday, Fitial stated:
“I have no desire to become a fugitive; forever unable to see the family and friends I have acquired throughout my lifetime.”
Through a chain of self-serving corrupt acts, Fitial inflicted immense damage on the CNMI and its citizens. His desires and wishes should not be a consideration.

The timing of his declaration comes on the heels of the statement by Governor Inos that he would extradite Fitial "if the Office of the Attorney General recommended pursing his return". The House passed a resolution calling for his extradition earlier this month.

May he receive the justice he deserves.

Eliminate the Need to Extend the CNMI Guest Worker Program

February 21, 2014

Despite the push by Governor Inos and U.S. Delegate Gregorio (Kilili) Sablan to convince the U.S. Department of Labor to extend the flawed CNMI-Only Transitional Guest Worker Program for another 5 years, a decision on the extension may not be made until this summer. 

Under the Consolidated Natural Resources Act, U.S. P.L. 110-229, the CNMI is to be transitioned to the U.S. immigration system.  The transitional CNMI guest worker program is set to expire on December 31, 2014 unless the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor extends it.

The law states:
(5)(A) Not later than 180 days prior to the expiration of the transition period, or any extension thereof, the Secretary of Labor, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of the Interior, and the Governor of the Commonwealth, shall ascertain the current and anticipated labor needs of the Commonwealth and determine whether an extension of up to 5 years of the provisions of this subsection is necessary to ensure an adequate number of workers will be available for legitimate businesses in the Commonwealth. For the purpose of this subparagraph, a business shall not be considered legitimate if it engages directly or indirectly in prostitution, trafficking in minors, or any other activity that is illegal under Federal or local law. The determinations of whether a business is legitimate and to what extent, if any, it may require alien workers to supplement the resident workforce, shall be made by the Secretary of Homeland Security, in the Secretary's sole discretion. 
(B) If the Secretary of Labor determines that such an extension is necessary to ensure an adequate number of workers for legitimate businesses in the Commonwealth, the Secretary of Labor may, through notice published in the Federal Register, provide for an additional extension period of up to 5 years. 
(C) In making the determination of whether alien workers are necessary to ensure an adequate number of workers for legitimate businesses in the Commonwealth, and if so, the number of such workers that are necessary, the Secretary of Labor may consider, among other relevant factors-- 
(i) government, industry, or independent workforce studies reporting on the need, or lack thereof, for alien workers in the Commonwealth's businesses; 
(ii) the unemployment rate of United States citizen workers residing in the Commonwealth; 
(iii) the unemployment rate of aliens in the Commonwealth who have been lawfully admitted for permanent residence; 
(iv) the number of unemployed alien workers in the Commonwealth; 
(v) any good faith efforts to locate, educate, train, or otherwise prepare United States citizen residents, lawful permanent residents, and unemployed alien workers already within the Commonwealth, to assume those jobs; 
(vi) any available evidence tending to show that United States citizen residents, lawful permanent residents, and unemployed alien workers already in the Commonwealth are not willing to accept jobs of the type offered; 
(vii) the extent to which admittance of alien workers will affect the compensation, benefits, and living standards of existing workers within those industries and other industries authorized to employ alien workers; and 
(viii) the prior use, if any, of alien workers to fill those industry jobs, and whether the industry requires alien workers to fill those jobs.
An extension of five years for the problematic guest worker program would be disastrous. If no immigration reform bill passes by June 2014, it would be wise for the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor to extend the program for only one year. Nothing in the law states it has to be renewed for five more hell-filled years.

Under any just guest worker program a pathway to citizenship is provided. There is no such provision in the CNMI guest worker program. In reality, the U.S. does not have a workable, just guest worker program, including the CNMI's transitional one.

The longterm nonresident workers, most of whom have lived and worked in the CNMI for 5 or more years, many for decades, would like to be granted permanent residency status, which would make an extension of the program unnecessary.

If the legal, longterm nonresident workers were to be granted the permanent residency status that they deserve, there would be no need to extend the transitional guest worker program. The CNMI would have the skilled workforce that it needs.

Governor Inos, Delegate Sablan, the Chamber of Commerce and business community want to see the program extended. Yet, they also have supported upgraded status for the legal nonresident workers. The only decent and ethical action is to push for permanent residency status, rather than to push for an extension of an expensive guest worker program that has caused uncertainty and insecurity for employees and employers.

The private sector is made up of over 90% nonresident workers who are disenfranchised and are routinely denied basic civil, human and political rights. They are grossly underpaid, and are often cheated by their employers. If everyone were to be truthful they would admit that the majority of the positions that nonresident workers have filled for decades are not 'temporary' at all. In fact, there are very few U.S. citizens or permanent residents in the CNMI willing to accept many of the low paying, labor intensive jobs that nonresidents fill. That is why they have been renewed annually year after year to fill those positions.

Even if every U.S. citizen who lives in the CNMI were to accept a position that is now filled by a nonresident worker, numerically, there are just not enough U.S. citizens living in the CNMI to fill every one. Furthermore, there are not enough U.S. citizens in the CNMI who have the skills needed to fill many of the positions. That is the reality.

The CNMI-only guest worker program is expensive and problematic for both employers and nonresident employees.  Costly fees, annual renewal applications and the length of time it takes to process applications and issue the CW permits create unnecessary hardships for all involved. Granting permanent residency to the legal, longterm nonresidents would virtually eliminate the need for the flawed program.

U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez should look at the entire picture. He should review the history of the CNMI and U.S. Guest worker programs. He should investigate the status and plight of the legal, longterm nonresident workers and their families who will be greatly impacted by his decision. He should recognize that the majority of the nonresident workers have lived in the CNMI for more than 5 years, many for decades, and in reality are not 'temporary' workers, but de facto citizens who are essential to the community and economy. He should study all of the numbers and weigh all of the issues and considerations outlined in P.L. 110-229. In the end, before making any decision on an extension, he should weigh the material and human costs to the U.S. and CNMI Governments, to the employers and to the employees.

Extending the program is merely extending the problems. Again, if a bill providing status for the legal, longterm nonresident workers is not passed by the end of July, then the Labor Secretary should renew the program for the least amount of time that is feasible, which is probably a year.

The only moral solution is to grant permanent residency status to the legal, longterm nonresident workers. That is where the focus should be.


February 18, 2014

Ex-Attorney General Edward Buckingham was found guilty of corruption, but Superior Court Associate Judge Kenneth Govendo suspended all of his jail time, which was 3.5 years. Buckingham was fined $14,000, placed on unsupervised probation and prohibited from being employed by the CNMI Government for 20 years.

According to the Saipan Tribune:
Govendo found Buckingham guilty of use of public supplies, time and personnel for campaign activities; use of the name of a government department or agency to campaign and/or express support for a candidate running for public office; misconduct in public office (related to campaign matter); conspiracy to commit theft of services (related to escort issue); misconduct in public office (pertaining to escort issue); conspiracy to commit theft service (related to use government counsels to represent him); and misconduct in public office (use of government counsels). Govendo acquitted Buckingham on one count of failure to produce documents or information (pertaining to Office of the Public Auditor’s request).
While justice was served with the guilty verdict, this is a weak sentence for the damage that this man did while employed as the top law official of the CNMI. Unsupervised probation? At least the judge could have been sentenced to a few years of community service!

George Hasselback recommended a year of prison with no possibility of parole and a fine. This recommendation is more fitting to the crimes that were committed.  A year in prison would have given Buckingham the time to sit and think about his actions.

It might be a good idea for the CNMI to enact a law that prohibits any person found guilty of a crime against the government, such as Buckingham, ex-Lt. Governor Villagomez, and numerous other former officials who have been convicted of crimes, from receiving or continuing to receive any CNMI retirement benefits. Why should criminals who inflicted harm to the people, stole from the government, and damaged the reputation of the CNMI be collecting money from the CNMI Government? Such a law could also state that fugitives from justice, like disgraced ex-governor Fitial, would also be ineligible to collect CNMI retirement benefits. I am not sure if such a restriction could be part of a sentence.

It would have been nice to have witnessed Buckingham receive the sentence. Was he still cocky and confident as the sentence was handed down? Does he still have the sense of entitlement that he flaunted from the time he was served the penal summons?

OPA Attorney George Hasselback should be commended for pursuing this case, the case against the participating DPS and CPA law enforcement officials, and of course, the case against ex-governor Benigno Fitial. Congratulations to him!

The next action for Buckingham should be disbarment. The CNMI Bar has a responsibility for ensuring that action is taken now that Buckingham has been found guilty.

The next action for the CNMI should be bringing ex-governor Benigno Fitial to justice.