Exactly a week after being sworn in as the CNMI's seventh chief executive, Gov. Eloy S. Inos signed late Wednesday afternoon a letter to Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad asking for his help in extraditing former attorney general and now fugitive from justice Edward T. Buckingham III to face multiple felony and misdemeanor charges that the Office of the Public Auditor filed against him.
Inos asked Branstad's help in apprehending and returning Buckingham-whom he described as “a fugitive from justice who has been charged with the commission of multiple crimes”-to the CNMI.
The governor said he has reason to believe that Buckingham has taken refuge in Johnson County in the State of Iowa.
Lawmakers who have long been asking former governor Benigno R. Fitial to sign the extradition request said that Inos did the “right thing” on the CNMI's behalf.
Some of them said this will remind government officials, even if they are the top law enforcement official of the Commonwealth, that “no one is above the law.”
Buckingham is the first former CNMI attorney general to be the subject of an extradition request.
Request from Buckingham's lawyer
Inos said that Buckingham's counsel, Brien Sers Nicholas, asked him yesterday to hold the extradition request in abeyance and allow Buckingham to return to the CNMI on his proposed timetable of March 18.
But Inos cited three reasons for deciding “not to agree” to the request.
“First, the charges against Buckingham are serious and include felonies,” Inos said.
The governor also said Buckingham has had ample time to work with Special Prosecutor George Hasselback on his return, “but has chosen not to.”
“This last-minute appeal is inappropriate,” Inos said.
The governor's third reason is that he has already transmitted the extradition request to the special prosecutor for implementation and he has requested a status conference with Associate Judge David Wiseman to discuss this issue.
Inos said this matter is now in the hands of the court and the special prosecutor. Hasselback is OPA's counsel and was assigned to be the special prosecutor in the criminal case against Buckingham.
“Mr. Buckingham should raise his issues with the court, not the governor,” Inos said in a statement.
House Vice Speaker Frank Dela Cruz (IR-Saipan), main author of a joint resolution that the House adopted on Tuesday asking Inos and Attorney General Joey Patrick San Nicolas to have Buckingham extradited, applauded Inos “for his action and the expeditious manner in which he acted.”
“This somewhat proves that this administration is moving in the right direction,” Dela Cruz told Saipan Tribune.
Inos signed off on the extradition request on the same day Buckingham, through his attorney, posted a $50,000 bail on Wednesday.
Press secretary Angel Demapan, in an interview yesterday, said the review of the proposed extradition was completed late Wednesday afternoon and the governor signed off on the letter that day as well.
“The posting of bail is a different issue. That's a matter the Executive Branch has no jurisdiction over. However, what we did learn also is that there's no order yet from the judge on the bail that was posted. We want to clarify that the governor's approval of the extradition request is a totally different issue from the posting of bail,” he told reporters.
Demapan said there has already been communication between the CNMI and Iowa State governments. Besides Hasselback, also working on the matter is Jim Stump, from the CNMI's Office of the Attorney General, he said.
'Doing the right thing'
Inos signed the letter before 5pm Wednesday and that letter was forwarded to Hasselback yesterday.
Inos signature comes some six months since Buckingham and his wife left Saipan on a 6am Delta Air Lines flight for Narita, Japan on Aug. 4, 2012.
The Buckinghams were escorted by police and ports police officers who allegedly helped shield him from being served a penal summons. An FBI agent served Buckingham with the penal summons shortly before their flight left.
That was a day after OPA filed criminal charges against the former AG.
It was also on Aug. 3 that Buckingham and former governor Benigno R. Fitial signed a sole-source, 25-year $190.8-million power purchase agreement that became part of 18 articles of impeachment against Fitial.
Fitial resigned on March 20, just days before the start of his impeachment trial at the Senate on March 7.
Some lawmakers said that, with Fitial stepping down, Buckingham may also want to clear his name.
House Speaker Joseph Deleon Guerrero (IR-Saipan), main author of two resolutions impeaching former governor Benigno R. Fitial, said yesterday he was “optimistic” that the new governor “was going to do the right thing.”
“I'm glad he did,” Deleon Guerrero added.
Sen. Pete Reyes (IR-Saipan), who has long supported Buckingham's extradition, said Inos' decision to sign off on the request is “great news.”
“I believe it has taken so long to do that. I'm glad that this [new] governor now feels that it is necessary because justice needs to be addressed and that this is a message to our people out in the public that no one is above the law. Even the highest law enforcer on the land needs to follow the law,” he said.
Now that Fitial has resigned, Reyes believes that Buckingham may also want to shed light on a host of issues he left behind.
“I certainly hope that Buckingham will come back and clarify what everyone is thinking here. We have our own idea in effect. We need for him to address this. I hope he clears himself but if not, he needs to face the music and understand that he's not above the law,” Reyes said.
In his two-page letter to the Iowa governor, Inos explained the reasons for his request for assistance in apprehending and returning Buckingham, who has been charged in the CNMI Superior Court with multiple misdemeanor and felony charges.
“I am asking that, pursuant to the laws of the State of Iowa, you undertake to locate, apprehend, and detain Mr. Buckingham until such time as we are able to make arrangements for his extradition back to the CNMI,” Inos told the Iowa governor.
On Aug. 7 or three days after Buckingham left Saipan, Superior Court Associate Judge David A. Wiseman issued a bench warrant for Buckingham's arrest for not appearing in court to answer criminal charges filed against him.
About a month later, Wiseman issued an order declaring Buckingham a fugitive from justice.
The penal summons served Buckingham was related to seven criminal charges filed against him by the CNMI Office of the Public Auditor.
The five original charges were in connection with Buckingham’s alleged hosting of a delegate candidate’s party at Fitial's house in August 2010 and Buckingham’s approval of a $400,000 sole-source ARRA management contract in October 2010 for Michael Ada within days of the latter stepping down as Cabinet secretary.
Two other charges-obstructing justice: interference with service of process, and misconduct in public office-were related to Buckingham’s alleged use of police officers to escort him at the airport to avoid being served with penal summons between Aug. 3 and 4.