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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Witness testifies how Buckingham evaded penal summons
16 videos of ‘escort scenes’ at hotel, airport shown in court

Office of the Public Auditor investigator Juanette David-Atalig yesterday testified how former attorney general Edward T. Buckingham avoided being served with penal summons in August 2012.

Public Auditor Michael Pai also took the witness stand yesterday for the CNMI government in the ongoing bench trial of Buckingham in the Superior Court.

OPA legal counsel George Hasselback also presented in court 16 videos showing how then Department of Public Safety deputy commissioner Ambrosio Ogumoro and several other DPS and Commonwealth Ports Authority officers allegedly escorted Buckingham from Aquarius Hotel in Chalan Kanoa to Saipan International Airport in the early morning hours of Aug. 4, 2012. The public were allowed to stay in the courtroom during the presentation, but only Associate Judge Kenneth L. Govendo, the parties in the case, and court staff watched the videos, which had no audio.

Buckingham is the first former AG to stand trial in the CNMI on criminal charges.

OPA investigator David-Atalig described to the court how she and OPA chief investigator Juan Santos tried to serve the penal summons to Buckingham on Aug. 3, 2012.

David-Atalig said she was surprised and got upset when a police officer revealed to her and Santos that an order from a “higher-higher up” directed them to cease serving the penal summons to Buckingham or they would be arrested. David-Atalig said she learned that the “higher-higher up” referred to by police officer Peter Camacho was then DPS deputy commissioner Ogumoro.

In response to Hasselback’s question, David-Atalig said she has never ever been threatened with arrest before while serving penal summons.

When asked why the FBI became involved in serving the summons, David-Atalig said it was her understanding that it was because of the threat to arrest her.

At the video presentation, David-Atalig identified in the 15 video footages Buckingham, Ogumoro, then CPA Ports Police chief Jordan Kosam, then Gov. Benigno R. Fitial’s escort/driver Capt. Jermaine Nekaifes, and several other DPS officers and CPA police, who were involved in escorting Buckingham either from Aquarius and at the airport on Aug. 4, 2012.

David-Atalig also identified in one video two FBI agents who came to the airport that same day to serve the summons to Buckingham.

Govendo admitted all 16 videos as evidence.

Pai testified, among other things, about a December 2010 OPA investigation report that concluded that Buckingham’s actions “violated criminal prohibitions” of both the Commonwealth Ethics Code Act and the Commonwealth Election Act when he hosted a campaign party for then delegate candidate and now Superior Court Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho at Fitial’s house in Gualo Rai on Aug. 28, 2010.

Citing statutory restrictions, the Fitial administration refused to release OPA’s report to the public. The report, however, was later leaked to the media.

Buckingham is facing eight charges over alleged violation of election laws, illegal award of ARRA contract, representation by government lawyers in a criminal case, and escort services.

The trial will continue today, Wednesday.

Attorney Richard Pierce is counsel for Buckingham.

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