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Thursday, April 24, 2014

2 plead guilty in poaching of fruit bats case

Former Rota customs officer Albert A. Taitano and former Division of Fish and Wildlife staff David A. Santos pleaded guilty Friday in federal court to charges of conspiring to poach a breeding colony of threatened Mariana fruit bats in 2008.

The trial in the case was supposed to start on Jan. 13, 2014, but Taitano and Santos agreed to plead guilty as part of a deal with the U.S. government.

They both pleaded guilty to a count of conspiring to unlawfully take and transport a threatened species—a misdemeanor offense.

Taitano and Santos will be sentenced in March 2014.

Assistant U.S. attorney Garth R. Backe appeared for the U.S. government at the hearing.

U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona presided over the case.

Taitano and Santos were indicted in 2011 with retired police lieutenant Adrian Mendiola over the same alleged poaching incident in 2008.

Only Mendiola’s jury trial proceeded in May 2011 in federal court. At the time, the court dismissed without prejudice the charges against Taitano and Santos at the prosecution’s request.

Jurors later found Mendiola guilty of unlawful possession of a threatened wildlife but not guilty of unlawful receipt or acquisition of threatened wildlife.

On April 13, 2013, the U.S. government filed a superseding indictment, charging Taitano and Mendiola with conspiring to unlawfully take and transport a threatened species, taking a threatened species, and transporting a threatened species taken in violation of law. The U.S. government sought to forfeit the defendants’ shotguns.

According to the superseding indictment, Taitano and Santos poached a fruit bat colony on Rota on Nov. 1, 2008.

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