Massage Gate Update

March 22, 2010


A change of plea hearing will be held for the governor's masseuse, Qingmei Cheng, on March 24, 2010 at 1:00 pm before Chief Judge Frances Marie Tydingco-Gatewood.

Yesterday the U.S. government filed Information on a misdemeanor charge. Count 1 8 U.S.C. § 1325(a)(l) Aiding & Abetting the Attempted Improper Entry By Alien.

From the document:
On or about January 5, 2010, in the District of the Northern Mariana Islands, the defendant, QINGMEI CHENG, knowingly and intentionally aided and abetted the attempt by Jingkai YU, an alien, to enter the United States at a time and place other than as designated by immigration officers; that is, QINGMEI CHENG assisted Jingkai YU's attempt to enter the Territory of Guam by boat from Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands; all in violation of Title 8, United States Code, section 1325 (a)(l ), and Title 18, United States Code, section 2.
Formerly, the masseuse pleaded not guilty. The change of plea could mean that the defendant will be openly disclosing more information on this and other crimes if she signs a plea agreement. Her attorney is Joseph Horey.

Background
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.

On February 8, 2010 Judge Alex Munson issued an ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO QUASH SUBPOENAS AND VACATING ORDER FOR EVIDENTIARY HEARING. Judge Munson states (emphasis added):
As acknowledged by the U.S. Attorney in its opposition, all subpoenaed participants at the evidentiary hearing face at least some possibility of being deemed criminally culpable. Because of that, the court is also concerned that it might need to assure individual counsel for each person subpoenaed. At that point, the evidentiary hearing will have become a full-blown adversarial proceeding but no one involved---the court, the plaintiff, or the subpoenaed parties - - will have any idea where it is going, if anywhere.

Finally, the court agrees that, given the paucity of grounds other than “possible prejudice to plaintiff and defendant, traditional investigation and use of the grand jury are more appropriate than a speculative, open-ended fact-finding hearing conducted under the aegis of the court.

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
Information on Misdemeanor

SOME POSTS ON MASSAGE-GATE:

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

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I hope she sings

Anonymous said...

So do I, but isn't her attorney a Fitial supporter? Didn't he write the lawsuit for Aldan and the other Covenant nativists? Is that a conflict?

Saipan lawyer speaks on ethics said...

Not if he is paid more money.

electric chair lawyer said...

Not if there is no overlap between the scope of representation. Any work for the indigenous rights group in the Covenant Section 903 litigation was by no means a personal representation of Governor Fitial or any individual in that group.

So there is clearly no conflict in Jed's court-appointed representation of Ms. Cheng. Indeed, an attorney has an ethical duty to accept such appointments absent a valid reason not to.

Also, despite the blogger blather, the temporary transfer of her custodial location is not a violation of the USMS-CNMI MOU, nor of any law.

It was a wise use of CNMI government resources. The Governor's health is not a "personal" matter as claimed by his racist and politically biased persecutors, any more than the treatment of President Obama at Walter Reed Army Hospital is.

Those who see some malfeasance here are barking up the wrong tree. Sagely, Pamela S. Brown has not been publicly in their number. At worst, the alternative medicine treatment created an appearance of impropriety, which is why Buckingham Palace would have not advised DoC to do it.

Saipan Writer said...

Wendy,
Do you have the P.L. 17-1 just signed by the Governor?

Saipan Writer said...

There's a major change between the indictment and the information.

The indictment was based on 8 USC 1324 (a)(2) and relates to bringing in or harboring an illegal alien.

The information just filed is based on 1325, and relates only to illegal entry of an alien.

It appears the US has abandoned the charges of Qingmei Cheng being a ringleader in the scheme to get the 22 aliens illegally into Guam.

Wendy said...

Jane

here

Wendy said...

Anonymous 9:59

Ridiculous spin!