WITH SENTENCING SET FOR TODAY

Judge Wiseman receives 19 letters of support for Fitial

Prominent persons, businessmen, former government officials, family members, friends, and former classmates wrote letters requesting and begging Superior Court Associate Judge David A. Wiseman to impose a lenient or no prison term on former governor Benigno R. Fitial.

Attorney Stephen J. Nutting, counsel for the 69-year-old Fitial, received as of yesterday at least 19 letters of support for Fitial. One letter was signed by Fitial’s eight high school classmates. Nutting filed the letters in court.

This afternoon, Wednesday, it will be known whether Fitial will get a prison term or not for his conviction to the offenses of misconduct in public office and conspiracy to commit theft of services.

Fitial’s fate will be at the mercy of Wiseman who will conduct the sentencing at 1:30pm.

Commonwealth Ports Authority board chair Jose R. Lifoifoi, who was among the letter writers, said Fitial has spent a lifetime of devotion to the CNMI and had built a legacy to be proud of, but that unfortunately his impressive legacy has been tarnished both as a result of the impeachment proceedings in 2013, and now these criminal proceedings.

“Ben has been punished and suffered enough. He does not deserve to be further kicked, now that he is down,” Lifoifoi said, adding that Fitial should be allowed to serve his remaining days with his family, friends, and loved ones.

Diocese of Chalan Kanoa Bishop Emeritus Tomas A. Camacho said it is his belief that Fitial’s resignation as governor, together with his decision to forego his right to a trial, demonstrates his willingness to admit wrongdoing and accept responsibility for his actions.

Camacho said he prays that the court tempers its judgment with fairness.

“Consider that for all the shortcomings he had admitted to, the former governor still accomplished great deeds, generated great enthusiasms, and practiced great devotions,” Camacho said. The Bishop Emeritus, however, did not specifically mention a sentence term.

Saipan former mayor Marian DLG. Tudela said Fitial is her classmate at Mt. Carmel School for the class of 1964 and that in all these years she enjoyed her friendship with the former governor.

Tudela said as speaker of the 3rd, 12th, and 14th legislatures and a two-term governor, Fitial was instrumental in leading and creating the necessary business environment and fervor to build and grow the CNMI economy during the most difficult financial crisis.

Tudela said Wiseman’s respect for the people and Commonwealth as associate judge “means a lot to all of us indigenous Chamorros and Carolinians,” she said.

Attorney James R. Stump, former legal counsel for Fitial, said the current problems facing Fitial are a result of a lapse in judgment, but are not reflective of his overall character and lifelong commitment to the community.

“Parties demanding significant penalties in this matter seem to be seeking revenge or to gain satisfaction from inflicting harm upon others rather than to achieve any objective of justice,” Stump said.

Businessman J.M. Guerrero said given the many accomplishments Fitial has made, the scales of justice tip strongly in Fitial’s favor, over the few misdeeds for which he now stands charged.

“I understand Ben has admitted to the crimes he stands charged and has thrown himself on the mercy of the court. He deserves the mercy he seeks,” Guerrero said.

Nutting is recommending no prison term. He said if the court determines a term of imprisonment be imposed, that it be suspended sentence in its entirety, on the condition that Fitial pay an appropriate fine, and restitution to for any loss to the government which might be proven for the crimes he now stands to answer for.

Office of the Public Auditor legal counsel George L. Hasselback, who is prosecuting the case, recommends that the court slap Fitial with a two-year imprisonment with no parole.

Chief prosecutor Leonardo Rapadas recommends a sentence of more than a year in prison.

The offense of misconduct in public office refers to the time when Fitial had his masseuse—a female Chinese who was at that time a federal prisoner at the Department of Corrections—temporarily released so she could massage him at his house on Jan. 8, 2010.

The conspiracy to commit theft of services refers to Fitial’s role in former attorney general Edward T. Buckingham’s efforts to evade lawful service of process during his departure from the Commonwealth at the Francisco C. Ada-Saipan International Airport on Aug. 3 or 4, 2012.

Fitial pleaded guilty to the two charges.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a veteran journalist who has covered all news beats in the CNMI. Born in Lilo-an, Cebu City in the Philippines, De la Torre graduated from the University of Santo Tomas with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He is a recipient of many commendations and awards, including the CNMI Judiciary’s prestigious Justice Award for his over 10 years of reporting on the judiciary’s proceedings and decisions. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@saipantribune.com

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