Habitual offender who burglarized lawyer’s house begs for leniency

Blames ‘ice’ addiction for deed


A habitual offender who pleaded guilty for burglarizing the home of lawyer Joseph Taijeron in Garapan blamed yesterday his drug addiction for his actions as he begged for a lenient sentence.

Benjamin Bok Lee, 27, said before he was into methamphetamine, he accomplished a lot as he became a flight attendant and a lifeguard.

Lee said his friend hooked him to illegal drugs.

“I’m really truly sorry for my mistakes,” said Lee during the sentencing hearing. “I’ve learned from [my] mistakes. I have a family to take care [of].”

Lee begged to Superior Court Presiding Judge Roberto C. Naraja to give him a second chance.

Naraja, however, continued the sentencing for July 10 at 9am in order for the defense counsel to submit some pleadings.

Last May, Lee signed a plea deal with the government and pleaded guilty to burglary.

Under the plea deal, the defendant will be sentenced to prison between three years and 10 years, pay a possible fine of up to $10,000, and pay restitution to the victims.

Lee broke into the house of Joseph Taijeron and his wife, Jamika, in Garapan and stole items on Aug. 2, 2017. Joseph Taijeron is counsel for the House of Representatives.

A surveillance camera of the couple’s neighbor led to identification and arrest of Lee on Aug. 21, 2017.

His arrest in As Lito happened a day before his sentencing in a 2016 robbery case in which he robbed a student who had just gotten out of school at Mt. Carmel School in Chalan Kanoa.

Police said that, soon after his arrest, Lee confessed to the crime and disclosed that he sold some of the stolen items and played poker.

In August 2017, Lee was slapped with a three-year prison term in connection with the Chalan Kanoa robbery.

At yesterday’s sentencing hearing, assistant attorney general Jonathan Robert Glass Jr. recommended a sentence of 10 years imprisonment to be served day for day without the possibility of parole, probation, or early release.

Glass said jail time should be served consecutive to any time Lee is serving in the prior 2016 robbery conviction.

Glass said Lee has been given many chances and that the only way to keep him from committing more crimes is to place him in jail.

Glass noted the psychological effect to the victims’ children.

Glass doesn’t believe Lee when he blamed meth for the crimes he did.

“He chose that. He made that decision,” the prosecutor pointed out.

Glass in his sentencing memorandum said Lee is indigent and will have restitution that needs to be paid in both the 2016 case and the current case. He said no fine should be imposed on Lee.

Glass said restitution in the amount of $1,482 should be ordered as well.

In the alternative, the prosecutor said, should the court disagree with the government’s recommendation of Lee serving every day of his 10-year sentence, and should the court order a portion of the sentence suspended, the government would request some conditions, such as a 10-year probation upon release from prison, a $5,000 fine, and restitution in the amount of $1,482 to victims Joseph and/or Jamika Taijeron.

Glass said victims are often the forgotten pieces of the justice system.

“Many times, victims see their abusers getting off with what they feel is a slap on the wrist punishment as the abuser serves few days (if any) and is then released,” Glass said.

Here, Glass said, the victims have requested justice for themselves.

He said the victims have detailed to the court the extent of the injuries they have suffered at the hands of Lee, their loss of security and stability.

“The children walk around the house with weapons in order to protect themselves, their family, and their property,” said Glass, adding that this shows the deep impact this crime has had on the children and the family unit.

Glass said theft and similar crimes have been become rampant in the CNMI and that Lee is part of the problem.

He said Lee has shown the possibility of a lengthy prison sentence won’t deter him from committing crimes.

Glass said Lee accepts no personal responsibility for his crimes.

He said defendant continues to blame drugs for his problems instead of his actions.

“While drugs are serious and can cause people to do things outside of the ordinary, a person must take personal responsibility for their own actions,” he said.

Assistant public defender Nancy Dominski, counsel for Lee, recommended a sentence of three years imprisonment to run concurrent to the sentence in his 2016 case.

Dominski said addiction is not a choice.

Dominski said Lee thought he could control the drug use, but he was wrong.

Dominski said the defendant has accepted responsibility and demonstrated remorse.

She said in this case, there was no violence, no weapon used, and no injuries.

In defendant’s sentencing memorandum, Dominski said Lee worked hard to overcome developmental disabilities and started working and supporting his family when he was 16 years old.

Dominski said releasing Lee to probation/parole would allow him to seek the help he needs either through Community Guidance Center or other drug/substance abuse programs to conquer his meth addiction.

Dominski said Lee recognizes the error in his behavior and is embarrassed by his action.

She said Lee attributes his lack of judgment to an ongoing drug addiction and begs this court for probation/parole to allow him to get treatment for his illness.

Lee has not received treatment for this addiction, the defense counsel said.

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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