Lili Zhang Tydingco found guilty

Jurors deliberate only for 2 ½ hours

A federal jury took only about two and a half hours yesterday afternoon to unanimously find Lily Zhang Tydingco guilty of harboring an illegal alien child. The offense carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Tydingco appeared calm after a court staff read the verdict at 3:40pm. She just nodded her head when a Chinese interpreter explained the verdict to her.

She will be sentenced on Nov. 15, 2019.

Tydingco remains at liberty until a federal prison facility is named for her. Assistant U.S. attorney Garth Backe did not object.

U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona reminded Tydingco, though, that she is already convicted and she is required to comply with her temporary release conditions.

In an interview after the verdict, defense counsel Bruce Berline said they are going to file post-trial motions and an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

This file photo shows Lili Zhang Tydingco taking a smoke break after a federal court hearing during her first trial in 2016. (Ferdie de la Torre)

“We disagree with the verdict but we’ll take that up with the appellate court,” he said.

Berline said it’s good, however, that his client remains at liberty for now.

Backe refused to comment on the verdict.

The trial started last Wednesday. The prosecution called six witnesses; the defense called two.

Last Thursday, a woman who was convicted in 2001 for engaging in a sham marriage with a Bangladeshi national took the witness stand for the U.S. government.

Rebecca Lynn Castro testified that Tydingco attempted to pay her $10,000 years ago to fake-marry a Chinese alien so he could have a permanent resident status.

Castro also said Tydingco offered to buy her a plane ticket last month, so she could leave the CNMI and not testify in the retrial.

The U.S. government’s sixth and last witness last Thursday was the Chinese girl herself—the alleged harbored illegal alien. She is now 15 years old.

After the girl’s testimony, Backe recalled to the stand Homeland Security Investigation Task Force officer Jesse Dubrall, who was the U.S. government’s first witness.

The four other witnesses were U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers Trishia Aguon and Ronald Atalig Muna, HSI special agent Nicole Sively, and Rebecca Lynn Castro.

Last Friday, Berline called to the witness stand Maria Torres and Ting Jin Tang.

After the prosecution rested its case Friday morning, Berline moved for judgment of acquittal. Manglona denied the motion. Berline then called the defense’s two witnesses.

During Thursday’s trial, outside the presence of the jury, Backe informed the court that witness Castro will be invoking her Fifth Amendment right.

In 2001, the Superior Court sentenced Castro to a three-month sentence, suspended for a period of six month, for fake-marrying a Bangladeshi national in 1999. The Bangladeshi national fled the CNMI before he could be summoned to court for the same offense as Castro’s.

Berline said that Tydingco’s case involves alleged harboring of an illegal alien—not a case about marriage fraud. Because Castro was not a witness to the charge of harboring an alien, such evidence cannot be used to show “consciousness of guilt,” Berline said.

Castro testified that Tydingco attempted years ago to pay her $10,000 just to marry a Chinese national in order for him to get a permanent resident status. Castro said the marriage did not push through and that she did not get the money.

Castro said that Tydingco came to her house thrice last month. At first, she was scared after the defendant told her that her lawyer wants to talk to her “to guide her.”

Castro said that during the second visit, she refused Tydingco’s request as she is not supposed to talk to a lawyer.

Castro said it was during the third visit that Tydingco offered to buy her plane ticket so she could leave the CNMI and not testify. Castro said she refused the offer because she already has a good life.

During Berline’s cross-examination, Castro said she was taking methamphetamine or “ice” before and that she has been sober for four years.

Castro admitted that she was taking “ice” when she was talking with Tydingco regarding the offer years ago to engage in a fraudulent marriage with the Chinese national.

In June 2016, a federal court jury found Lili Tydingco guilty of one count of harboring an alien and her husband, Francisco Tydingco, guilty of aiding and abetting the harboring.

In December 2016, Manglona sentenced Lili Tydingco to 10 months’ imprisonment with credit for time served. She sentenced Francisco Tydingco to 21 months imprisonment, with credit for time served.

The Tydingcos appealed to the Ninth Circuit to reverse their conviction and vacate their sentences.

In 2018, the Ninth Circuit reversed the convictions and remanded the case to the District Court for a new trial.

Last May, a superseding indictment was subsequently filed against Lili Tydingco. The U.S. government then dropped the case against Francisco Tydingco. The court granted the motion.

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

Related Posts

Disclaimer: Comments are moderated. They will not appear immediately or even on the same day. Comments should be related to the topic. Off-topic comments would be deleted. Profanities are not allowed. Comments that are potentially libelous, inflammatory, or slanderous would be deleted.