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Court considers Governor’s wife a ‘witness’

By Ferdie de la Torre SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Jan. 21, 2010) - Aside from Gov. Benigno R. Fitial, the U.S. government has also summoned first lady Josie Fitial to testify about the alleged unauthorized release of a federal inmate from the Department of Corrections (DOC) in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).

In a phone interview yesterday, assistant U.S. Attorney Eric O'Malley disclosed that he summoned everyone that was mentioned in his moving papers filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands (NMI) "as someone who might have witnessed the event."

O'Malley said the first lady is among the six people they summoned to testify at the Feb. 17, 2010, evidentiary hearing.

KSPN2 and Saipan Tribune earlier already reported that the U.S. government had summoned Gov. Fitial.

According to a Fitial administration statement, DOC Commissioner Dolores Aldan had stated that the DOC staff and first lady Josie Fitial were present during the period that Qing Mei Cheng administered massage therapy on the governor at his private residence in Gualo Rai in the early morning of Jan. 8, 2010.

O'Malley said they sent subpoenas to four others-Commissioner Aldan, DOC Capt. Arnold K. Seman, Capt. Georgia Cabrera, and Corrections Officer Abigail Borja.

The U.S. government identified the four as those who escorted Qing to Fitial's residence, allegedly without prior federal authorization and having received the governor's approval.

O'Malley explained that the evidentiary hearing's primary purpose is to find out whether or not there was anything that might have prejudiced the case against Qing.

"We will be calling witnesses. The normal rules of evidence don't necessarily apply. So basically it's just going to be an inquiry and I expect that the judge will have some questions as well," O'Malley said.

As to whether the judge will issue a determination after the hearing, O'Malley said the judge has the authority to take whatever actions he sees fit.

O'Malley also stated that his understanding is that the CNMI government intends to probably file a motion to quash the subpoenas.

When asked if the governor or DOC officials may have committed a crime in Qing's unauthorized release, O'Malley replied: "It's way too early to say that. Even if there were, I won't tell you."

The original schedule for the evidentiary hearing was last Friday, Jan. 15, but Attorney General Edward T. Buckingham asked to move the hearing to Feb. 17, 2010, to give him more time to prepare.

U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Alex Munson granted Buckingham's request.

Qing was among 24 Chinese nationals recently arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents for allegedly trying to unlawfully enter Guam on a boat.

The 28-year-old Qing and Jian Li, 31, male, were indicted on 22 counts of attempting to bring aliens to the U.S. illegally.

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