CNMI Senator Juan Ayuyu In Custody For Witness Tampering

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Facing federal charges for smuggling endangered fruit bats

By Andrew O. De Guzman and Emmanuel T. Erediano

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Dec. 18, 2012) – Rota Sen. Juan Manglona Ayuyu was taken into custody by federal authorities late Monday afternoon.

Variety learned that Ayuyu was indicted on several charges which included obstruction of justice and preventing a witness from testifying or tampering with a witness.

Ayuyu was booked late yesterday afternoon at the CNMI Department of Corrections, and is scheduled to appear in federal court for an initial appearance this morning.

Ayuyu was earlier charged with conspiracy to smuggle federally protected fruit bats from Rota to Saipan. His "pro bono" lawyer, Steve Pixley, did not respond to this reporter’s email inquiries.

Yesterday, Ayuyu and Pixley attended a hearing in federal court in connection with the fruit bat case while a grand jury convened in the same building.

Two weeks ago, U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona warned Ayuyu that he was under the federal court’s jurisdiction and must obey pretrial release conditions imposed by the court.

But Manglona didn’t find probable cause that Ayuyu committed assault and disturbed the peace of Rep. Janet Maratita who said the senator threatened to kill her. The judge then denied the U.S. Attorney’s Office motion for the revocation of Ayuyu’s pretrial release.

In October, a grand jury indicted Ayuyu, and former Rota municipal council staffer Ryan James Inos Manglona on charges of conspiring to violate, and violation of the Endangered Species and Lacey Acts. They denied charges that they smuggled fruit bats from Rota to Saipan on Oct. 17, 2010.

Both were on pretrial release and will be tried starting on Jan. 7, 2013.

Senate panel

The Senate Committee on Rules and Procedure last week approved a report recommending that no action against Ayuyu be taken until the federal court convicts him.

In a four-page report, the panel chaired by Senate Vice President Jude U. Hofschneider, R-Tinian, recommended that the Senate respect the judicial process and allow the federal court to address Ayuyu’s indictment "before the Senate determines if any action is warranted."

The committee report said the house may discipline its members. This means it may set up a procedure whereby legislators may be fined, censored, or suspended for a period of time. The grounds for disciplinary action are left to the house. The house may expel a member by a vote of three-fourths of its members.

The report added: "The grounds for expulsion are limited to commission of treason, a felony, breach of peace or violation of the rules of the house. The Legislature may act even if the member in question has not been convicted of a crime by a court. The Legislature may not add to the grounds of expulsion. However, where the grounds are commission of a crime or breach of the peace, the findings necessary to support expulsion must include each of the elements of the crime and must be proved using a standard of beyond a reasonable doubt."

The report said that the Senate does have the authority to address the federal indictment of Ayuyu. However, because it is a criminal matter, the committee found that the judicial process should be respected and Ayuyu should be afforded the opportunity to address the matter.

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