DPS Evidence Tampering Leads to Dismissal of Drug Case

This week two CNMI prosecutors, Chemere McField and Barbara Cepeda, submitted fake evidence in an important drug case being tried in the Superior Court. As a result, the three-day trial concluded with a judgement of acquittal and two well-known ice dealers walked.

In February 2010 Le Xiang Cheng and Yuhua Weng were charged with conspiracy to commit trafficking of a controlled substance. Cheng was also charged with trafficking of a controlled substance and illegal possession of a controlled substance.

Chief prosecutor Shelli Neal stated that the OAG "was looking into what happened."

It is hard to believe that not one person involved in this case, from DPS to OAG personnel, noticed that the evidence had been tampered with prior to the trial. Also troubling is the fact that someone most likely within DPS and with access to the locked safe took the original evidence and replaced it with fake evidence.

Judge Joseph Camacho addressed the court:
“The court asks the Attorney General [Joey] San Nicolas and [Department of Public Safety] Commissioner James Deleon Guerrero to personally look into this matter. After three days of trial, with testimony by six witnesses (five law enforcement officers and one confidential informant), it has been discovered that no one knows what happened to the ‘ice’ that was confiscated in 2010. The ‘ice’ was stored in a locked safe at DPS. It appears that the package in which the ‘ice’ was kept was tampered with; the original package may have been replaced by fake evidence.”
The CNMI Department of Public Safety has a history of not properly receiving, handling and securing evidence that is vital to prosecute cases.

In March 2013 items were stolen from the  DPS "storage room" in Susupe. The Saipan Tribune reported:
. . . the burglar or burglars managed to enter the storage room by smashing a portion of a wall in the storage room. The room used to be one of the offices of the Superior Court. DPS has been using the room to store recovered stolen items, among other evidence. The items were not claimed by the owners.
In August 2010 a fenced off, padlocked and secured DPS storage room "at the back of the DPS evidence room" was broken into and evidence was stolen. The missing evidence was marijuana plants that had been seized. Saipan resident Christopher Ayuyu was arrested in that incident.

Some evidence room break-ins were inside jobs. In 2005 three police officers, Eric John Tudela Mafnas and Charley K. Patris were arrested for stealing seized drugs from the DPS evidence room and selling them. Mafnas and Patris, were both members of the DPS Special Investigation Section and were nabbed by the F.B.I.  They stole 46 grams of "ice".

Edward Maritia was charged with 33 offenses including illegal use of public supplies, services, time, and personnel; theft; and theft by deception.

From the Saipan Tribune:
The FBI collared Mafnas and Patris in a case that federal prosecutors call one of the worst corruption cases in the Commonwealth. The alleged criminal activities have reportedly jeopardized local prosecution of drug cases. 
The FBI tagged Mafnas as the organizer and leader of the criminal activity, accusing the policeman of stealing from the DPS some 46 grams of methamphetamine hydrochloride, commonly referred to as “ice,” on one occasion.
At that time then DPS Commissioner Santiago Tudela vowed to make "improvements" on securing evidence.

In September 2005 the Office of the Public Auditor issued a report, Audit of the Department of Public Safety Evidence Controls Report No. AR-05-04. A summary states:
In its audit, OPA found that (1) the Evidence Custodian did not always receive evidence in a timely manner and, in some instances, it could not be determined when evidence was received; (2) obtaining officers did not always comply with DPS procedures for documenting evidence; (3) DPS did not have a uniform method for temporarily storing/securing evidence prior to transferring/relinquishing it to the Evidence Custodian; (4) DPS improperly handled and disposed of drug evidence related to an incident that occurred in June 2004 during OPA’s audit fieldwork; (5) DPS evidence storage facility was structurally inadequate to prevent unauthorized entry; (6) DPS lacked an organized system for segregating and storing evidence; and (7) the Evidence Custodian performed incompatible duties. As a result, DPS weakened its accountability over in-custody evidence and increased the risk of possible destruction, theft, loss, and/or misuse of such evidence. OPA was also concerned that the integrity of evidence may have been diminished, potentially compromising the investigative and criminal proceedings requiring such evidence.
Read the entire OPA report that shows the gross mismanagement of evidence complete with graphic photos depicting the mess:

Following the exposure from the OPA report a new evidence storage building was identified and measures were taken to secure it. Apparently, not enough measures, as the 2010 and 2013 break-ins testify.

After repeated burglaries to DPS evidence rooms over the years, one would think that the department would install an effective security system and take other measures to ensure that crucial evidence is secure.

Additionally, since much of the evidence that has been stolen has been drugs stolen from safes and locked rooms, isn't it time that DPS implement a policy to routinely drug test all police officers and personnel and to stop hiring police officers with former criminal records?

See this post for background:
Stop Federal Funds to Corrupt DPS


Anonymous said...

So much to answer to and so much that shows the total incompetence over the years of the hiring because of name and association and not because of education and competence.
The other is that the training is a big joke with so called instructors that are not qualified nor even physically able in most cases.

It has long been known the police are among the drug suppliers and protectors of their direct suppliers.
In the uter Islands when they need money they will actually go house to house selling or flag you down on the road if they recognize a passenger that uses or sells or recognize that you are among DPS friends and associates.

Usually the people that actually are arrested are either arrested in conjunction with the Feds."sting" or because of 'territorial disputes' involving drugs or crossed their protectors in DPS.
Occasionally DPS has to throw something out to make it look like they are doing their jobs.

In many cases if the "sting" operation is leaked out through the local counterparts the whole operation is compromised due to the "dirty" cops sending out the alarm.

Look at the majority nationalities arrested and the amounts of drugs compared to any locals.

Same with the courts, look at the sentencing of foreigners compared to any locals that are convicted.

Look at the bails amounts also between the different nationalities and the locals for the same offenses.

When I was with the Feds. it was not uncommon for me or others to just ask someone to unlock the 'evidence room' or locker, where ever it may be at the time and no one ever monitoring my actions.
It was very difficult to get any answers to any questions and documentations concerning actual evidence.
Majority of the time evidence was contaminated due to the incompetence of all first respondents concerned along with subsequent respondents.
Also many time some one had to search to locate where certain evidence was stored.

All a very big joke in comparison to any real law enforcement agency.

Anonymous said...

Most DPS officers are local. DPS may hire some foreigners with U.S permanent resident card or U.S passport to have a strong DPS workforce to eliminate crimes in CNMI. CNMI legislature, AGO or DPS may consider this immediately-
• Drug test is a must for DPS personnel. So CNMI can have drug free DPS officers.
• Multi-nationals are given opportunities in DPS to deter and detect crimes in CNMI.

Anonymous said...

Money and drugs disappear all the time from the evidence locker. Drugs are replaced with fake "drugs" and money is simply replaced with small bills. Everyone has to understand that as a whole DPS is patently corrupt. Most of these cops have more than one mouth to feed and are paid a paltry 16k a year so it's no surprise. And on top of that the AGO has to defend them when they get into trouble ! Still not right though.

Anonymous said...

There is discussion about drug testing police officers. While I agree with this the AGs need to be tested themselves. Start with Joey and work down the chain including and especially the prosecutors. Cocaine and marijuana use is not uncommon here even among the AGO. In fact they fit the demographic among habitual cocaine abuse and perhaps even meth...