Ex-Labor chief acquitted


Former Labor secretary Edith Eleanor Deleon Guerrero and her counsel, assistant public defender Heather Zona, are all smiles as they emerge from the Horiguchi Building in Garapan Friday afternoon after Superior Court Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho acquitted Deleon Guerrero of all three traffic charges. (Ferdie de la Torre)

Former Labor secretary Edith Eleanor Deleon Guerrero was acquitted Friday of all three traffic charges filed against her.

A beaming Deleon Guerrero strode out of the U.S. District Court courtroom—where the Superior Court is temporarily holding hearings—with her lawyer, assistant public defender Heather Zona, after Superior Court Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho acquitted her, saying the CNMI government failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

As soon as assistant attorney general Jonathan Robert Glass Jr. rested the government’s case, Zona immediately asked the judge to acquit Deleon Guerrero of the charges of using a government vehicle that had tinting on its windows, that was not marked as a government vehicle, and did not bear government license plates.

The government rested its case after its sixth witness, former Workforce Investment employee Nikonia Tudela, completed her testimony.

Camacho said the government has failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the vehicle driven by Deleon Guerrero is a government vehicle as defined in the Traffic Code, requiring a lease to be 12 months or more.

He adjudged Deleon Guerrero not guilty of all three charges, which carry a total of up to $1,500 fine and/or nine days imprisonment.

“The court can only follow the law as written,” the judge said, adding that if the Office of the Attorney General does not like the definition of ownership of government vehicles, the OAG must go to the Legislature to change the definition.

Camacho said the actions of then-Labor secretary Deleon Guerrero of renting vehicles on a month-by-month basis did not violate the black-letter definition of the law.

Camacho said that repeatedly renting vehicles may be more expensive than if the government simply purchases the vehicle.

“Renting month to month, though technically not illegal…, raises question of whether it is the best use of limited taxpayer money,” the judge said.

Whether Deleon Guerrero made a poor decision for using taxpayer money in renting vehicles month after month, only the voters and the political branches of the legislative and executive can answer that question, Camacho said.

He said the court can only rule on the legal matter as written in the law.

He said the law states that the government owns a vehicle if it is leased for 12 months or more.

The judge said OAG takes the position that leasing a car even for a day requires displaying government markings and license plates, and removal of all tinting. Citing examples, Camacho said the OAG’s position would result in an absurd, ridiculous outcome.

“To borrow a baseball analogy, the Office of the Attorney General strikes out and does not even reach first base,” he said.

Camacho said it is strange day in court when the prosecutor puts on a case, calls witnesses, and presents documents that prove the defendant did not commit the infractions.

Deleon Guerrero, in an interview, said she is moved by the acquittal, which according to her “is the right decision.” She can’t believe the case has dragged for almost two years.

“Nothing was done maliciously or illegally. I followed everything to the law,” she said, adding that everything she has done for Labor was in the interest of the Commonwealth. “Nothing in there was to benefit myself or my family. Everything was done honestly.”

Deleon Guerrero suspects the charges against her were politically motivated. “It just makes me really wonder about the maliciousness and the real intent behind this whole thing as to try to slander me and bring my character down and things like that, to paint a negative picture in the community,” she said.

When asked if she is running for a seat this November election, Deleon Guerrero said she is still considering a seat under Precinct 1 for the House of Representatives or possibly a Senate seat island-wide. She said she is very close to making a decision.

“I am still happy to serve the Commonwealth. …I think we are in for a big change in November and people deserve the best,” she said.

Zona herself said they were just pleased with the result.

Glass refused to comment.

The bench trial started last Wednesday.

According to the charges, on Dec. 8, 2013, to Oct. 11, 2016, Deleon Guerrero, as Labor secretary, used a government vehicle that had tinting on its windows, that was not clearly marked as a government vehicle, and did not bear government license plates.

Glass alleged that over the span of many years, while serving as Labor secretary, Deleon Guerrero used over $30,000 in federal or government funds to lease four vehicles and that those vehicles bore no indication that the government leased them.

Glass Jr. said neither the vehicles’ front doors nor license plates indicated any government affiliation—and the windows were tinted.

But Zona asserted that the government cannot and will not be able to prove that the vehicle or vehicles involved were “government vehicles.”

Zona said that, contrary to its representations, the government has provided a stack of short-term car rental agreements, not leases.

According to court documents, officer Jesus Santos issued the traffic citation against Deleon Guerrero on Oct. 16, 2016, at 3:39pm in the parking lot of the Happiness Chinese Restaurant in western Garapan.

Deleon Guerrero was the driver of a red five-door Toyota car with license plate ACU-788. The car was registered at that time to Marfega Trading Co. Inc., which owns Islander Rent-A-Car.

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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