Human Smuggling/Massage-Gate Summary and Document Links

On January 5, 2010 two Chinese aliens, Qingmei Cheng and Jian Li, were arrested in Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) for human smuggling charges. The defendants and 22 other aliens were going to take a boat to be smuggled into Guam when they were apprehended by ICE agents and U.S. officials.


The defendants were ordered by Judge Alex Munson of the District Court of the NMI to be held without bail as they were considered a flight risk.

On January 8, 2010 the Governor of the CNMI, Benigno Fitial, requested that Qingmei Cheng, his masseuse, be released from jail and brought to the governor's mansion to give him a massage. The DOC Corrections Commissioner, Dolores Aldan and three DOC officials accompanied the prisoner to the governor's house. It was claimed that she gave the governor a massage and then was returned to her prison cell. The DOC Commissioner did not notify the defendant's attorney or the Court that she was removing the prisoner from the jail. She claimed that she tried unsuccessfully to contact the U.S. Marshall Service and the Office of the Attorney General. The transport of the prisoner to the governor's mansion allegedly took place around 3:00 am.

Governor Fitial has denied any abuse of his power, any abuse of his office and has refused to take responsibility or to apologize to the people of the CNMI. He made two conflicting statements to the press - one admitting that he had requested the prisoner's release, and one denying that he ordered her release. His unethical and questionable actions have not gone unnoticed. Over 1,500 media outlets have picked up the story world-wide. CNMI residents are calling for his resignation.

Conflicting Views
Supporters of the governor allege that he was justified in ordering the release of the prisoner, his masseuse, since he had "pain" due to a chronic back condition. They claim that anyone who publicizes the incident, demands accountability and acceptance of responsibility from all involved parties, and/or calls for the governor's resignation and the firing of DOC officials are not "compassionate", "humane" or "considerate."

Those who are outraged by this incident demand that the corruption and abuse of power by officials within the Fitial Administration end. They want full disclosure of this incident and a previous incident where the governor interfered with Cheng's arrest for alleged solicitation. Some are calling for his resignation.

I believe that the corruption within the CNMI government is a major reason why the human rights and labor abuses were allowed to continue for decades to the detriment of all of the guest workers. The idea that officials are somehow above the law and that they should be forgiven for transgressions while not having consequences for abusing the power of their offices is absurd. We have seen what happens when laws are not enforced. For instance, the $6.1 million in unpaid judgments owed to cheated workers is the result of non-enforcement of the law. Making excuses for illegal and/or unethical behavior never serves the people and always is a barrier to social justice and progress.

Motion for Evidentiary Hearing
The U.S. filed a motion for an evidentiary hearing to obtain facts about the release and to determine if "any prejudice was caused" by the incident. U.S. Attorney Eric O'Malley confirmed that those given subpoenas concerning the release from jail of human smuggling defendant are Governor Fitial, his wife, Josie Fitial, DOC Commissioner Aldan, DOC Capt. Arnold Kaipat Seman, the governor's son-in-law, Capt. Georgia Cabrera, and Corrections Officer Abigail Borja. They were called as witnesses "as someone who might have witnessed the event." From the motion:
BASIS FOR THE HEARING
On January 5, 2010, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency arrested the Defendant in a sting operation targeting a group of Chinese nationals attempting to illegally travel from the C.N.M.I. to Guam via boat. The Defendant was indicted that same day on twenty-two counts of attempting to bring an unauthorized alien into the United States, in violation of Title 8, United States Code, Section 1324(a)(2). Also that same day, the Court appointed Joseph E. Horey as her counsel. She was arraigned on January 6, 2010, where she pled not guilty. Citing a high risk of flight, the Court denied bail and remanded her to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service. The Marshals then delivered her to the C.N.M.I. Department of Corrections, where she remains incarcerated.

Upon information and belief, prior to her arrest, the Defendant was Governor Benigno Fitial’s regular massage therapist. Early in the morning of January 8, 2010, the Governor instructed C.N.M.I. Department of Corrections Commissioner Dolores M. Aldan to deliver the Defendant to his private residence for the purpose of providing him treatment. Prior to delivery, Commissioner Aldan tried repeatedly to contact Attorney General Edward Buckingham and the U.S. Marshals Service, but she was not successful. No attempt was made to contact the Defendant’s counsel or the Court.

Despite the failure to obtain prior federal authorization, having received the Governor’s approval, Captain Arnold K. Seman, Captain Georgia Cabrera, Officer Abigail Borja, and Commissioner Aldan escorted the Defendant to the Governor’s residence in the early morning hours on January 8, whereupon she provided the Governor’s treatment. The Defendant was promptly returned to the Department of Corrections after the treatment.

The Government submits that an evidentiary hearing is needed to ascertain the facts and circumstances of these events, and to determine whether any prejudice was caused thereby. For this reason, the Government requests that this motion be granted.
On January 22, 2010 the OAG filed a Motion to Vacate the Order for Evidentiary Hearing and Quash Subpoenas. The first part of the document was a repetition of the excuses presented by the Governor's Office and DOC, and the second part concentrated on the notion that the OAG felt the federal government would be prosecuting the officials. The Government filed a response on January 29, 2010 requesting a denial or the motion.

The evidentiary hearing is scheduled for February 17, 2010. The trial for the defendants is scheduled for February 22, 2010.

SOME COURT DOCUMENTS FILED IN THIS CASE:

Indictment of Qingmei Cheng and Jian Li
Arraignment Cheng
Initial Appearance Cheng
Order for Jury Trial
Motion for Evidentiary Hearing
Order Granting Motion for Evidentiary Hearing
Motion to Vacate and Reschedule Evidentiary Hearing
Order Rescheduling Evidentiary Hearing (filing date deadlines)
Attorneys for Defendants
Criminal Complaint Dong
Information Dong
Jian Dong Plea Agreement
Motion to Vacate the Order for Evidentiary Hearing and Quash Subpoenas and Exhibit 1
Nunc Pro Tunc Order
Government's Response to Vacate Order for Evidentiary Hearing and Quash Subpoenas
Reply to Response
Affidavit of Benigno Fitial
Affidavit of DOC Commissioner Dolores Aldan
Declaration of Georgia Cabrera
Declaration of Abigail Borja
email exchange between Buckingham and O'Malley
agreement between the CNMI Department of Corrections and the United States Marshals Service Witness Security and Prisoner Operations Divisions
ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO QUASH SUBPOENAS AND VACATING ORDER FOR EVIDENTIARY HEARING

SOME POSTS ON MASSAGE-GATE:

Massage Gate Update
Massage gate: Not So Fast
Massage-Gate: Order from Judge to Vacate and Quash
Ads Pulled By Administration
Massage-Gate:Affidavits and declarations raise more questions
Massage-Gate: Response From Buckingham is more of the same spin
Massage-Gate: New Voices
Massage-Gate: US Files Response
Massage-Gate Update
Massage-Gate: the Saga Continues
Massage-Gate:House Minority Wants Answers
Massage-Gate: OAG Files Motion to Vacate and Quash
Massage-Gate Updates
Defendant in Human Smuggling Case Signs Plea Agreement
Governor Denies Ordering Prisoner to His House
Massage-Gate: The Outrage Continues
Governor Fitial-Prisoner Masseuse Take-Out Story Goes Global.
Some Reaction To Massage-Gate
Masseuse/Governor Fitial Story is National News
Pain Caused Governor Fitial to Release Prisoner
Masseuse Released From Jail to Give Governor Fitial a Massage


A video from KSPN:

1 comments:

The Saipan Blogger said...

This is a great recap