The Office of the Public Auditor disclosed yesterday that its investigation has uncovered evidence indicating a coordinated effort by several persons, including former governor Benigno R. Fitial and Department of Public Safety deputy commissioner Ambrosio Ogumoro, to shield former attorney general Edward T. Buckingham from being served a penal summons in August last year.
Aside from Fitial and Ogumoro, OPA said the other persons involved were Police Capt. Jermaine W. Nekaifes, Commonwealth Ports Authority police chief Jordan Kosam, CPA's Capt. Juan Rebuenog, and police officers Stanley Patris and Myron Laniyo.
Sources disclosed yesterday that the Superior Court also issued an arrest warrant for Ogumoro and Buckingham. Ogumoro is reportedly in Canada for an official trip, while Buckingham, now deemed a fugitive, is currently in the U.S. mainland.
It was not clear yet whether an arrest warrant was also issued against Fitial. OPA legal counsel George Hasselback refused to comment when asked if Fitial, Ogumoro, and Buckingham are the subject of arrest warrants.
Nekaifes, Kosam, and Rebuenog, who were arrested during a joint operation by DPS and OPA Wednesday night, were brought to Superior Court yesterday morning for their initial appearance.
Nekaifes, Kosam, and Rebuenog were arrested on charges of conspiracy to commit theft of services, conspiracy to commit obstructing justice, interference with law enforcement officer or witness, theft of services, misconduct in public office, and interference with service of process.
Kosam was also arrested on a charge of tampering with judicial records or process.
Attorney Matthew Holley appeared for a limited hearing as counsel for Rebuenog. Nekaifes and Kosam told the court that they are going to hire their own lawyers.
Associate Judge David A. Wiseman reduced the $25,000 cash bail he earlier imposed on each of the three defendants to only $500 cash and $4,500 unsecured bond. The judge required the three to surrender their passports to the court.
Arraignment will be on March 18.
OPA legal counsel George Hasselback said they will formally file charges against Nekaifes, Kosam, and Rebuenog in the next few days.
To explain why it took so long to file the charges, OPA legal counsel George Hasselback said the case is a complicated one and involves a lot of individuals.
“And to be frank, it involves law enforcers,” said Hasselback, adding that a case of this importance should not be rushed.
“It's a well executed investigation,” he added.
In his affidavit to support the arrest warrants, OPA chief investigator Juan M. Santos said he reviewed call logs and text messages from the cell phones of Ogumoro, Nekaifes, Kosam, Buckingham, and Fitial.
Those logs, Santos said, indicate that during the late afternoon and on the night of Aug. 3, 2012, and the early morning of Aug. 4, 2012, Ogumoro's cell phone made and received several calls from Buckingham's cell phone.
Santos said that Ogumoro's cell phone also received at least one call from Nekaifes' cell phone.
He said that Ogumoro's cell phone was also used to make and receive several calls from Fitial's cell phone.
Santos said that Nekaifes was aware of the existence of the summons for Buckingham as shown by Kosam's testimony during Fitial's impeachment proceedings.
Santos said that Kosam had received a phone call from Nekaifes asking for his help in escorting Buckingham as persons may attempt to serve Buckingham with the summons.
Furthermore, Santos said, Nekaifes coordinated the escort and security services to be provided for Buckingham and his wife.
Santos said that Nekaifes and Ogumoro made arrangements with Kosam and Fitial to help Buckingham evade and avoid the service of the summons.
Kosam was also aware of the penal summons to be served upon Buckingham, Santos said.
He said that Kosam, together with Ogumoro and Rebuenog, coordinated and facilitated the movement of Buckingham and his wife within the airport on the night of Aug. 3, 2012, and in the early morning hours of Aug. 4, 2012, when Buckingham and his wife left Saipan on a 6am Delta Air Lines flight to Narita, Japan.
Santos said that Kosam had ordered a CPA captain to “throw the summons in the trash can” or words to that effect.
An FBI special agent eventually managed to serve Buckingham with the penal summons shortly before the flight took off.
Rebuenog, meanwhile, helped shield Buckingham from KSPN reporter Tina Sablan, Santos said.
At a news briefing yesterday afternoon, DPS Commissioner James Deleon Guerrero said five officers helped three OPA to serve the arrest warrants on Nekaifes, Kosam, and Rebuenog.
“This case is not over yet. The process has just begun in court. Today is a very sad day for a lot of law enforcement officers in the Commonwealth. The officers who were arrested yesterday we've known personally. We're with them in different capacities in the past,” Deleon Guerrero said.
However, knowing the defendants personally does not take away from DPS the responsibility to uphold the law, he added.
Deleon Guerrero said that OPA investigators put together the case and that the only extent DPS got involved was to provide full cooperation into their inquiries of the department's involvement or the activities that were carried out by DPS personnel.
“The other form of cooperation that we tendered to them was of course in providing assistance that led to the apprehension of the three individuals,” he said.
In the case of Nekaifes, Deleon Guerrero said it is his understanding that Nekaifes is not a DPS police captain but was a CPA police captain.
Deleon Guerrero said he reviewed the records and found out that Nekaifes' actual title with DPS is not police captain but governor's chauffeur.
The commissioner stated that during the arrest, a police captain's badge and a service firearm were confiscated from Nekaifes.
Deleon Guerrero said that Ogumoro left for Canada Tuesday morning and is expected to be back on March 17.
Deleon Guerrero said Ogumoro was supposed to travel to Canada with the fire chief Tom Manglona to inspect a rescue boat and determine whether it meets compliance requirements.
“This is the reason for selecting him and chief Manglona because.they are much more familiar as to what the requirements are in terms as to the type of boat that they're supposed to purchase, etc.,” he said.