March 18, 2008
Judge Wiseman sentenced David Atalig of Rota to two years and six months in prison for his criminal activity involving human trafficking and prostitution of minors. The former owner of the Stardust Club was originally charged with 226 counts including human trafficking, prostitution, immigration fraud, unlawful exploitation of a minor, and harboring an illegal alien. Unfortunately, all of the charges except for immigration fraud were dropped in a plea deal. (You can read more about the story here.)
The Trinune story said that Assistant Attorney General Kevin Lynch recommended a sentence of four years. The sentence could have been for up to five years in prison. From the story:
Atalig, his wife Corazon, and two former employees were convicted of hiring under-aged girls from the Philippines, using different names and forged birth certificates.
The Atalig couple signed a plea agreement with the government.
Mr. Atalig pleaded “no contest” to one count of immigration fraud, while Mrs. Atalig pleaded “no contest” to four counts of aiding, abetting, and encouraging illegal entry.
The employees-Nilda Maniego and Priscilla D. Rulloda-pleaded “no contest” to one count of harboring an illegal alien. Maniego and Rulloda are sisters of Mrs. Atalig.
The remaining charges against the defendants were dismissed as part of the agreement....
Wiseman had already sentenced Mrs. Atalig in January to 364 days in prison, with two days credit for time already served. This means that Corazon Atalig will serve a total of 362 days more. She started serving the prison term on Jan. 28, 2008, and shall be released on Jan. 25, 2009 at 8am.Wiseman said Corazon Atalig shall be eligible for parole as determined by the Board of Parole.
As for Maniego and Rulloda, Wiseman suspended the imposition of sentence last January and placed the two on probation for three years."
The judge remarked that the David Atalig settled with the Department of Labor an amount in "six figures", showed "sincere" remorse, and considered his past contributions to the community as leverage for a lower sentence. The article stated:
“Defendant has no prior criminal history and is 64 years old. He has achieved a graduate education and was a Rota delegate to the Northern Mariana Islands Constitutional Convention. He also served the CNMI as a deputy director and director of Department of Public Works.”
I find it interesting that in determining sentences, judges consider the criminal's degrees, professions, and former community service. What does it matter? A person with a graduate degree is more worthy of leniency than one with a high school diploma? A person who was a delegate to the NMI Constitutional Convention is more worthy of leniency than a guest worker with no political rights? A person who was a director of a government department is more worthy of leniency than a person who is a laborer at the Department of Public Works? The only consideration that should be given is whether the defendant is mentally competent or not - the rest is irrelevant. One might even argue that someone with the higher amount of education should know better. The criminal knowingly committed grave offenses, destroying lives.
How does one judge whether remorse is sincere or not? By the amount of tears a defendant sheds, by the length of a letter begging for forgiveness? How does one know if the remorse is remorse at being caught, or true remorse because of realization that the criminal has destroyed the lives of his victims? Anyone who trafficks minor girls for prostitution deserves to have the book thrown at him or her. There should be a law that there can be no plea bargain in a human trafficking case, and the minimum sentence is 40 years (or more) with no chance for parole. After two and a half years this criminal will be out of prison, but his victims will suffer for the rest of their lives.
No coverage of the sentencing from the two local papers mentioned whether or not the defendants would be considered sexual offenders after their release. The coverage also did not mention any restituion to be awarded to the victims.
The plea bargain forgave 226 counts of prostitution, human trafficking, unlawful exploitation of a minor, and harboring an illegal alien. Where is the justice for the victims? But then again, in the CNMI the guest workers cannot even serve on a jury even though they make up a significant number, if not a majority, of the adult population. Where is the justice in that?
Photo: UN GIFT billboard in Vienna, Austria