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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

FBI agent takes stand in Buckingham trial
OPA rests its case, defense calls Judge Camacho to the witness stand

Federal Bureau of Investigation special agent Haejun Park recounted to the court yesterday how then-Department of Public Safety deputy commissioner Ambrosio Ogumoro tried to prevent them from serving a criminal penal summons to former attorney general Edward T. Buckingham at the Saipan International Airport in the early morning hours of Aug. 4, 2012.

Superior Court Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho was also called yesterday afternoon to the witness stand by Buckingham’s counsel, Richard Pierce. Camacho testified that Buckingham did not endorse his candidacy for the delegate position in his remarks at a gathering at the house of then-governor Benigno R. Fitial in Gualo Rai on Aug. 28, 2010.

Camacho also stated that Buckingham was not present during his meeting with the Covenant Party chairman at Saipan World Resort in July 2010.

Camacho’s testimony was brief as Pierce and Office of the Public Auditor legal counsel George Hasselback raised only a few questions.

Associate Judge Kenneth L. Govendo, who is presiding in the bench trial of Buckingham, asked only whether Fitial was present at the gathering, to which Camacho replied, “Yes.”

The prosecution rested yesterday after calling in its last witness, Office of the Public Auditor chief investigator Juan Santos. Pierce then moved to dismiss the charges.

Associate Judge Kenneth L. Govendo said he treats the motion to dismiss as a motion for judgment of acquittal.

After listening to the arguments, the judge denied the motion as to five charges: use of public supplies, time and personnel for campaign activities; use of the name of a government department or agency to campaign and/or express support for a candidate running for public office; misconduct in public office (related to campaign matter); conspiracy to commit theft of services (related to escort issue); and misconduct in public office (pertaining to escort issue).

Govendo placed under advisement one count of failure to produce documents or information (pertaining to OPA’s request). The judge said he needs to review the documents or evidence in this matter.

In his testimony, Park said that when he and another FBI agent entered the airport’s VIP Lounge, Ogumoro walked toward them in a rapid fashion and confronted him. Park said Ogumoro told him that he was under an “executive order” to escort Buckingham and his wife to the plane.

Park said he explained to Ogumoro that they were there to serve a criminal penal summons to Buckingham and that if he [Ogumoro] places a hand on him, he will be arrested.

Park said he told Ogumoro that the summons only requires Buckingham to appear in court on Monday and that they [FBI agents] had no jurisdiction or authority to hold Buckingham.

Ogumoro reportedly replied that he would confer with Buckingham. Ogumoro went back to Buckingham and later allowed him to approach the former AG.

Park said he introduced himself to Buckingham, who stated that he knew him. Park said he explained to Buckingham about the criminal summons that requires him to appear in Superior Court.

Park said he placed the summons on the table in front of Buckingham, because the latter was on the phone.

When asked why the FBI became involved, Park said it was OPA that contacted him in the evening of Aug. 3, 2012, to ask for his help as OPA investigators had been threatened that they would be arrested if they insist on serving the summons. Park said the FBI has a task force with OPA in which they have an agreement to address public corruption.

The agent said that upon their arrival at the airport, he and the other FBI special agent met with OPA investigators Juan Santos and Juanette David-Atalig and they proceeded to the CPA police office. He said they requested a CPA officer to see a supervisor because they want to get inside the airport to serve the summons.

Park said it was apparent that somebody gave instructions to CPA to obstruct the serving of summons as they were given various excuses.

After waiting for quite some time, Park said he and the other agent proceeded to the business lounge, where Ogumoro physically confronted him.

After Park, OPA called police detective Peter R. Camacho, who testified that he was assigned at patrol at that time and assisted OPA investigators Santos and David-Atalig in their attempt to serve the summons to Buckingham.

Camacho said it was his then-supervisor, Capt. Juan Mendiola, who instructed him to assist the OPA investigators at Aquarius Hotel. At Aquarius, David-Atalig asked him to assist them in serving the summons to Buckingham because they had a hard time doing so.

Camacho said he failed to go to Buckingham’s room because the hotel manager was informed that Buckingham was not there.

Later, Camacho said, Capt. Mendiola called him and told him that Ogumoro instructed him to back off from helping the OPA investigators. He said Mendiola stated that the instruction was that, if OPA investigators do not stop, they would be arrested.

Camacho said that, upon instruction from a detective, he called Fitial, who asked him what he was doing at Aquarius Hotel and who authorized him to help the OPA investigators. He said he told Fitial that it was his field supervisor.

After the judge ruled on the motion for judgment of acquittal, Pierce called their first witness, assistant attorney general Charles Brasington, who basically testified, among other things, how he and other government lawyers discussed their special appearance for Buckingham at the latter’s initial hearing in the criminal case.

The trial will continue today, Friday, at 9am.

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