Superior Court Associate Judge Kenneth L. Govendo has imposed a sentence of house arrest for two years on Ana Castro Cepeda, a former Department of Finance employee who pleaded guilty for embezzling $3,500 that was paid by some clients of the Members Home Loan program.
At the sentencing hearing on Tuesday afternoon, Govendo ordered that Cepeda may only leave her house to attend church, prayer meetings, and any kind of medical emergencies for herself, her husband, or anyone else in her family.
After serving the house arrest, Cepeda will be placed on supervised probation for one year. She was ordered to pay restitution to the CNMI government in an amount to be determined by the Office of Adult Probation, a $1,000 fine which she may convert to 200 hours of community work service, and a $100 in court fee.
Govendo said Cepeda shall write letters of apology to victims Fermin Sakisat, David and Doris Atalig, and the Department of Finance.
Govendo prohibited the defendant from seeking employment with the government for a period of two years pursuant to regulations.
Cepeda signed a plea deal with the government. She pleaded guilty last Jan. 20 to the offense of theft.
As part of the plead deal, the Office of the Attorney General recommended a sentence of one year imprisonment, followed by two years of probation.
Assistant attorney general Chester Hinds appeared for the government at the sentencing hearing.
Assistant public defender Nancy Dominski, counsel for Cepeda, requested the court to impose a two-year suspended prison sentence and two years of probation.
Dominski said Cepeda’s husband, Edward Cepeda, a retired police officer, suffers from disabling episodes and that she assists him greatly during these times.
Dominski said the embarrassment and humiliation the defendant has brought upon herself as a result of her actions acts as both deterrence and punishment.
“She realizes her mistake, and is ashamed and embarrassed by her actions,” the defense counsel said.
OAG charged Cepeda of accepting cash payments on behalf of Finance and then keeping and ultimately spending the monies she received from April 7, 2015 to Aug. 31, 2015.
Cepeda was arrested in October 2015 on charges of five counts of theft or embezzlement, five counts of theft by unlawful taking or disposition, five counts of theft by deception, and five counts of theft by failure to make required disposition of funds received.
Office of the Public Auditor investigator Juan Santos stated in his report that their investigation started in September 2015 after Finance Secretary Larrisa Larson and the NMI Retirement Fund comptroller turned over information about theft of funds involving a Members Home Loan client’s payment.