July 18, 2013
Earlier this month, Neal, engaged in a federally funded 5-day trip to Pagan on a commercial fishing boat piloted by criminal defendant and notorious lawbreaker, Ambrosio Ogumoro. She was accompanied by businesswoman Rosemond Santos, her husband Gary Sword, and former OAG investigator James Ayuyu. The trip was funded by a federal grant that Santos received for a proposed aquaculture venture under a newly established nonprofit, Guihan Pacifiku.
Ogumoro, the controversial former Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, followed some ethically challenged and illegal orders from his old pal, ex-governor Benigno Fitial, who presently has a warrant out for his arrest.
Ogumoro currently faces criminal charges for his part in the "great escape" of former CNMI Attorney General Edward Buckingham. At the time of the Pagan trip, Neal was the lead prosecutor in that case where Ogumoro and several other former DPS officials are accused of conspiring with ex-governor Fitial to help Buckingham avoid being served a penal summons.
The list of crimes Ogumoro was charged with include theft of services; misconduct in office; criminal coercion; 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 witness; obstructing justice by interference with a law enforcement officer or witness; and obstructing justice by interference with service of process.
At the time of the trip, Neal was also the lead prosecutor in several other independent investigations of Ogumoro that are currently being conducted by the DPS and the OAG. She has reportedly been replaced of her duties in prosecuting and investigating Ogumoro.
A commenter on this blog stated that Ogumoro is not a licensed captain authorized to take passengers for hire, nor is the boat certified for charter. It was suggested that the U.S. Coast Guard should also investigate this matter.
Instead of returning to Saipan from Pagan on Ogumoro's boat, Neal and Santos took a federally funded helicopter ride that Santos publicly described as "a gift" for the trip back. According to the CNMI ethics law, P.L. 11-8, no CNMI official can accept a gift that is valued over $50. The estimated cost of the helicopter ride is over $8,000, which would make the acceptance of the ride, a clear violation of the ethics law.
KSPN News reported that Marine Corps Activity Guam Public Affairs Officer, Major Neal Fisher, stated in a reply to KSPN inquiries that the helicopter ride provided for Chief Prosecutor Shelli Neal and former chief prosecutor, now businesswoman Rosemond Santos last weekend, "was not specifically authorized nor specifically paid for by the military." Fisher said that that the ride back by the two women was taken "without our knowledge and we were not involved." He explained that military contractor Carnotech hired Americopters to transport a team of archaeologists and supplies to Pagan to conduct resource surveys and not to transport anyone else, according to the reply that KSPN News received from Fisher.
Also, responding to KSPN inquiries about the controversial helicopter trip was Rufus Crowe, the operations director for Americopters. He stated that he has no relationship with Guihan Pacifiku. However, according to KSPN, in a previous interview Santos revealed that Guihan Pacifiku was interested in "establishing a relationship with Americopters", which raises further ethical questions.
Crowe's reposnse to KSPN also conflicted with the explanation that the trip was a "gift". In a previous interview Santos said that the helicopter trip was a gift that was offered by the pilot of Americopters. However, Crowe explained that Santos and Neal requested the ride back to Saipan.
If Santos and Neal actually asked for the helicopter ride rather than being offered a ride that raises the additional questions. Did the trip participants get word of the KSPN broadcast that exposed the chief prosecutor's unethical involvement with the criminal defendant, Ambrosio Ogumoro? Did she want to avoid further questions by not making the return on the boat with the criminal defendant that she was charged with prosecuting and investigating?
Regardless of whether the pricey helicopter ride was a request, a favor or an offer, the acceptance was an ethical violation.
Apparently, not happy with KSPN's questions, Americopters' Rufus Crowe replied to KSPN's legitimate inquiry with this unprofessional and snarky remark:
"Why you are trying to turn a simple favor into something nefarious really shows that you must be scouring the bottom of the barrel for news these days . . . pretty damn pathetic."What is "damn pathetic" is that a company that has federal and local contracts would respond to a reasonable inquiry in such a rude and arrogant manner. There are ethics laws. A particular ethic law was violated and the company, like it or not, is involved in that violation. Crowe may want to practice responding in a professional and non-defensive manner for when he is called upon in the near future by an investigator or prosecutor concerning this matter.
Additionally, it is odd that a pilot would offer a helicopter ride to two unauthorized passengers. What kind of liability would the company or Carnotech have faced if there had been an accident or crash while they were being transported? Did they sign any liability papers or waive any rights before boarding?
Agencies that awarded any federal grant money to Guihan Pacifiku and to Ambrosio Ogumoro should also investigate this trip and the legitimacy of the nonprofits that they are funding.
General Standards for Chief Prosecutor
The American Bar Association describes the general standards for a chief prosecutor, which are meant to be used as a guide to professional conduct and performance. The standards include the function of the prosecutor:
Standard 3- 1.2 The Function of the Prosecutor
(a) The office of prosecutor is charged with responsibility for prosecutions in its jurisdiction.
(b) The prosecutor is an administrator of justice, an advocate, and an officer of the court; the prosecutor must exercise sound discretion in the performance of his or her functions.
(c) The duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely to convict.
(d) It is an important function of the prosecutor to seek to reform and improve the administration of criminal justice. When inadequacies or injustices in the substantive or procedural law come to the prosecutor's attention, he or she should stimulate efforts for remedial action.
(e) It is the duty of the prosecutor to know and be guided by the standards of professional conduct as defined by applicable professional traditions, ethical codes, and law in the prosecutor's jurisdiction. The prosecutor should make use of the guidance afforded by an advisory council of the kind described in standard 4-1.5.The American Bar Association describes a prosector's responsibility to avoid conflicts of interests. The following relate to this case:
Standard 3-1.3 Conflicts of Interest
(a) A prosecutor should avoid a conflict of interest with respect to his or her official duties.
(f) A prosecutor should not permit his or her professional judgment or obligations to be affected by his or her own political, financial, business, property, or personal interests.Other standards list by the ABA were not adhered to in this situation. Chief prosecutors are expected to have an understanding of the law and are expected to follow the law. When ethical questions are raised a chief prosecutor has an obligation to respond. Neal refuses to answer questions about the federally funded trip.
Like Fitial, Ogumoro, Buckingham, and other CNMI officials who engaged in corruption, or illegal or unethical acts, Neal appears to believe that avoidance will make the problem go away. It will not.
She is another CNMI public official who has demonstrated that she is not qualified for the position that she holds; another CNMI official who thumbs her nose at the law that she is charged with upholding.
KSPN, the media outlet that broke the scandal and has followed up on it attempted to get more answers to the many unanswered questions.
When questioned about the trip, how much she paid and her relationship with Guihan Pacifiku, Neal arrogantly refuses to answer. She told KSPN News reporter Tina Sablan:
"You ran your story without getting a statement from me. You've already run your story. Had you wanted the truth, you would have gotten a statement from me before you ran the story. You ran the story without getting my side. You didn't get all the facts. It was slanted. It was accusatory and you didn't have all the facts and now I'm not gonna...that's all I'm going to say." "I would have been happy to talk to you if you had talked to me before you ran that story. Now you want me to defend myself and I am not going to do that."When asked about he role on the trip, she laughed, "I'm not going to talk about it now."
Neal's excuse in refusing to respond to legitimate questions is ridiculous. If she believed that there was no ethical violation, then she would immediately disclose the "facts" and the "truth". Instead she attempted to impose a self-serving imaginary timeline of when truth can and cannot be revealed. She accused KSPN of not meeting her truth telling timeline, and therefore is not deserving of now hearing the facts and truth!
This attorney violated ethics laws, yet she attempts to hold a media outlet responsible for her breaches. Kill the messenger is a pitiful tactic, especially when it comes from an attorney. Neal's response demonstrates that she is thumbing her nose at the law rather than upholding it. Neal has demonstrated that she is not mature enough, responsible enough, or ethical enough to respond properly, never mind hold the position of chief prosecutor.
KSPN reported off camera that Neal said she commonly interacts with criminal defendants in her daily life and admitted that she and other members of the OAG have had drinks at Ogumoro's bar in the past. She also said, "Ogumoro is not a leper."
He may not be a "leper" but as chief prosecutor, she should not be interacting with him or any person who is under investigation or is a criminal defendant! Does she not understand her position that is funded by the people that she is charged to serve? Does she not feel an obligation to answer to the public for her transgressions and irresponsible acts?
Furthermore, it is disturbing that members of the OAG would frequent a bar operated by this sleazy man, especially considering that he was under investigation by both the OAG and DPS. The $60,000 federal grant awarded to Ogumoro is one of the issues that is under investigation. Neal and members of the OAG could not go to another bar with a less controversial owner? Her statements both on and off camera further reveal that she is not qualified for this position and must be removed.
KSPN reporter Tina Sablan also questioned Ogumoro's attorney, Doug Cushnie, who said he had nothing to say at the time.
Ambrosio Ogumoro refused to talk to the reporter and behaved like an angry thug on camera. He finally responded off camera by shouting, "shut up!"
KSPN is a responsible news outlet. It has an obligation to report that the OAG's chief prosecutor took a 5-day trip to Pagan with the rogue criminal defendant that she is charged with prosecuting. As a legitimate news agency, it does not, and should not, follow anyone's self-serving timeline.
KSPN News did its job and it did it well. The same cannot be said for the defensive chief prosecutor who owes it to the public to respond immediately, truthfully and completely to questions about her unethical acts. She should be held accountable for her missteps. She is a public servant and one who should resign immediately.
See also these previous posts:
Something's Fishy July, 7, 2013
CNMI AG Defends Questionable Fishing Trip, July 8, 2013
Chief Prosecutor's Fishy Trip Linked to Federal Grant, July 10, 2013