June 24, 2015
The charges relate to the two-term governor allowing a federal prisoner to be released from jail to give him a late night massage and for providing an airport escort to help ex-Attorney General Edward Buckingham escape from the CNMI after a warrant was issued for his arrest for 6 corruption charges.
Fitial entered the courtroom on the arm of his wife, Josie, walking slowly a cane and looking many years older than his 69 years. The courtroom was filled with his supporters.
Fitial's attorney, Stephen Nutting presented the court with 19 letters of support from family members, friends, former classmates and former government officials asking the judge for leniency.
The letters cite his years of public service and poor health as a consideration for leniency in sentencing.One letter writer was former Ports Authority Board chair Jose Lifoifoi, who touted Fitial's years of service to the CNMI. He noted that the impeachment and this trial tarnished those years of service. (Actually Fitial, himself, tarnished any years of service with his corrupt, unethical and legal acts.)
Judge Wiseman said that Fitial's conduct cannot, should not, and will not be tolerated and the proverbial message must be sent that government officials who betray the public trust by violating the laws of the CNMI will in all likelihood go to jail.
Chief Prosecutor Leonardo Rapadas said that the sentencing sends a strong message to all government officials that they are not safe. They need to adhere to the ethics of the office."
Office of the Public Auditor prosecutor George Hassleback said that the sentencing was a "testament to those people out there who step forward and speak up when they see incidences of corruption within our government."
Fitial reportedly asked his family for forgiveness. He must report to the department of corrections by July 6, 2015.
It is unlikely that Fitial will spend even one day in jail. His long-time business and political pal, Governor Eloy Inos will most likely pardon him, or he will fail to return to the CNMI from the Philippines where he has been living for the last few years.
More to follow.