2nd plea deal for ex-Rota DCCA chief rejected

Proposed plea agreement recommends $100 fine, suspended sentence

Superior Court Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho rejected yesterday the second proposed plea deal that recommends a suspended sentence for former Rota Department of Community and Cultural Affairs resident director Josepha Barcinas Manglona.

Camacho said the proposed plea deal requires no jail time but, considering that Manglona was accused of using her position as Rota director of Aging to enrich herself, imposing no jail time has no rehabilitative, deterrence, retribution, or incapacitation effect.

Camacho said Manglona fails to learn from her past criminal conviction and that the terms of the proposed plea deal basically allows her again to pay a small fine and not serve any significant jail time.

“The jail sentence and other terms under the proposed plea agreement fail to conform to the standards of this court and the CNMI community,” he said.

Camacho said the parties may submit another proposed plea agreement.

“Notwithstanding the court’s rejection of this plea agreement, the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law,” he said.

A bench trial on Rota on Oct. 15, 2015, shall proceed.

Under the proposed deal, Manglona will plead guilty to removal of government property and shall be sentenced to six months in prison, all suspended except for three day, with credit for three days of time served.

It also recommends a $100 fine, as well as court and probation fees, and restitution in the amount of $249 to Leo Mereb. It also recommends 100 hours of community service and 12 months of supervised probation.

Manglona originally faced five criminal charges but this has since been cut to two. The amended information now charges the 53-year-old Manglona with theft by unlawful taking or disposition and possession or removal of government property.

In his request to amend the charges, assistant attorney general Matthew C. Baisley said the government’s investigation of the case uncovered evidence that warrants dropping the charge of conspiracy to commit theft by unlawful taking or disposition and two counts of misconduct in public office.

At a change of plea hearing yesterday, Baisley said it is a difficult misdemeanor case. Under the new proposed plea deal, Manglona’s conviction will be forever in court records, unlike in the first proposed deal in which the recommendation was to expunge the record.

Baisley said in the proposed second plea deal, the defendant shall be placed on probation so she will be interacting with the Office of Adult Probation for 12 months.

The prosecutor noted that the stolen pool table has already been returned to the government.

He said the initial assumption was that the pool table at the Aging Center was stolen in the darkness. Baisley said further investigation showed that that’s not the case.

He said it was a traumatic experience for Manglona to be arrested and detained for three days and that the proposed plea deal is appropriate.

When asked by Camacho about Manglona’s prior conviction for possession of a fruit bat, attorney Timothy Bellas, counsel for Manglona, said it was not a crime of dishonesty.

Bellas said fruit bat consumption was a “cultural thing” until the federal government came in and declared the species endangered.

Bellas said the conviction stemmed from the incident in 2011 and that Manglona has completed her probation in that case.

The lawyer noted that Manglona used to serve with the U.S. Armed Forces and was honorably discharged and that her husband is a Department of Public Safety police sergeant.

In this case, Bellas said Manglona made an error of judgment. He said the pool table was already not in good condition and was actually placed in the storage room.

Bellas said it’s rare that the defense and the prosecution are on the same page in a case. He said the fine was increased to the maximum and that there are substantial changes in the second plea agreement as compared to the first one.

In rejecting the proposed second plea deal, Camacho noted a serious problem with the recommendation that defendant shall receive a commuted sentence of three days credit for time served.

Camacho said commutation of sentence, in criminal law, is reduction of a sentence for a criminal act by the chief executive head of the government.

Camacho said what the plea agreement is asking violates the separation of powers between the Executive and Judicial branches.

Baisley and Bellas, however, immediately clarified that what they really meant was that the sentence will be suspended.

Camacho also noted that the proposed plea deal requires that Manglona pay restitution of $249 to Leo Mereb.

“Leo Mereb allegedly received a government-owned pool table. If true, Leo Mereb is not the victim. Leo Mereb may be an uncharged defendant for receiving stolen property,” the judge pointed out.

The stolen property, he said, is the pool table—not the hollow blocks that Mereb used to allegedly illegally exchange for the government-owned pool table.

On the prosecution’s statement that it will be difficult to prove the case, Camacho said all cases are difficult to prove and that it is the prosecutor’s burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt each and every element of the crime.

Camacho said the allegations are that Manglona used her position as director or Aging to enrich herself by trading a publicly owned pool table in exchange for hollow blocks to build her house.

He said the pool table was used at the Aging Center, a place that CNMI’s elderly go to receive services as well as enjoy their golden years.

Camacho said Manglona has a prior conviction in 2014 for possession of an endangered and threatened species. She was convicted of transporting a fruit bat in her luggage at the Rota airport and was just fined $2,000 and made to render 60 hours of community service.

In the pool table case, Camacho said Manglona faces a possible consecutive sentence of five years and six months.

Last month, Camacho rejected the first proposed plea deal that recommends a sentence of a mere $50 fine and no prison term. He found the proposed deal too lenient.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com

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