CNMI Senator Pleads Not Guilty To Witness Tampering

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Juan Ayuyu faces new obstruction charges in smuggling case

By Ferdie de la Torre

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Dec. 19, 2012) –Senator Juan M. Ayuyu (R-Rota) of the Northern Mariana Islands pleaded not guilty yesterday to a new indictment charging him with obstruction of justice for allegedly threatening and tampering with witnesses and attempting to destroy evidence related to a pending case that accuses him of attempting to smuggle federally protected fruit bats.

Federal agents arrested the 48-year-old Ayuyu Monday afternoon after a federal grand jury handed the new indictment charging him with conspiring to obstruct an official proceeding, obstructing an official proceeding, tampering with a witness, suborning perjury, attempting to prevent testimony of a witness, obstructing the due administration of justice, and attempting to destroy or remove seized property.

As this developed, U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona ordered Ayuyu yesterday afternoon to submit to a drug test to be performed by the U.S. Probation Office. The judge ordered that the result of the test will be withheld until a hearing today, Wednesday, at 9am, on the U.S. government's motion to detain the senator pending trial.

At his initial court appearance yesterday morning, Ayuyu, through counsel Steven Pixley, waived reading of the indictment and his constitutional rights. He pleaded not guilty.

Manglona set the jury trial for Feb. 19, 2013, at 9am.

Manglona also disclosed to the court that her spouse and Ayuyu's spouse are first cousins. The judge, however, ruled that such relationship is not covered by grounds to recuse herself from the case. She, however, stated that the parties are free to file a motion for her recusal if they believe they have other known grounds.

Alicia A.G. Limtiaco, U.S. Attorney for the Districts of Guam and the NMI, said that Ayuyu was arrested Monday after a federal grand jury sitting on Saipan handed down the seven-count indictment.

Ayuyu is currently under indictment for violations of the Endangered Species Act and the Lacey Act for his role in possessing and transporting eight Mariana fruit bats on Oct. 17, 2010.

According to the new indictment, on Oct. 17, 2010, Ayuyu instructed Ryan James Inos Manglona to deliver a cardboard box containing Mariana fruit bats to the Rota airport in advance of the senator's flight to Saipan.

Ryan Manglona worked for the Rota Mayor's Office and was also assigned to perform duties on behalf of the Rota Legislative Delegation. He is Ayuyu's co-defendant in the first case. He recently pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice.

The new indictment alleges that Transportation Security Administration agents later opened the box as part of pre-flight screening and eight dead Mariana fruit bats were discovered hidden beneath some 40 lbs of lemons.

The box, together with the bats, were stored temporarily in a freezer at the CNMI Department of Public Lands and Natural Resources, Division of Quarantine Airport Office belonging to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services until USFWS agents could take custody.

Sometime between Oct. 18, 2010, and Oct. 21, 2010, Ayuyu allegedly instructed a Senate attorney to call Quarantine, inform them the call was being made on behalf of Ayuyu, and demand to know what authority they had to hold cargo baggage seized from passengers.

The box and the fruit bats, however, were taken into USFW's custody on Oct. 21, 2010, and eventually sent to the USFWS National Wildlife Forensics Lab in Ashland, Oregon to undergo testing.

After Ryan Manglona was subpoenaed on Nov. 19, 2010, to appear as a witness before the federal grand jury, Ayuyu allegedly encouraged him to lie and instructed him on what to say, such as to deny that he (Manglona) knew what was in the box and to deny that Ayuyu was home when he picked it up.

On Nov. 23, 2010, Manglona allegedly intentionally gave evasive, false, and misleading testimony to the grand jury.

On Dec. 1, 2010, while a Division of Fish and Wildlife conservation officer and another conservation officer were waiting to board a flight to Rota to conduct further investigation, Ayuyu allegedly approached the two and told the DFW conservation officer "basta ma imbestiga yu" ("stop investigating me").

Ayuyu also reminded the DFW conservation officer that he was on a Senate committee assigned to help former CNMI immigration employees displaced by the transfer of immigration responsibilities to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, knowing that the conservation inspector had previously worked for the CNMI Division of Immigration until his position ceased to exist due to the federalization of local immigration laws.

Limtiaco said many of the counts Ayuyu has been charged with carry a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years and fines in excess of $250,000.

Assistant U.S. attorney Garth R. Backe asked the federal court that Ayuyu be detained pending trial.

In a motion, Backe cited that there is a serious risk that Ayuyu will obstruct or attempt to obstruct justice and/or threaten or attempt to threaten witnesses and/or intimidate witnesses.

Backe said defendant's first line of attack was a thinly veiled attempt to intimidate Quarantine to return the package containing the fruit bats.

"In this regard, the defendant abused his position as a senator for the CNMI by enlisting an attorney in the office of Senate Legal Counsel to improperly contact [Quarantine] on his behalf to make inquiry regarding the Division of Quarantine's authority to hold items seized from airline passengers," Backe said.

The prosecutor said the senator's second prong of attack was a frontal assault on the grand jury, convincing his co-conspirator to lie to the grand jury in the hopes of escaping criminal liability for his role in the taking and possession of federally protected wildlife.

Backe said Ayuyu's third prong of attack was his attempt to impede the investigation through brazen threats and intimidation of the lead investigator.

"Again utilizing his position as senator for the CNMI, the defendant directly instructed the lead investigator to "stop investigating me."

The defendant then attempted to threaten the lead investigator's job by implying that he could negatively influence the lead investigator continued employment.

Backe also cited the Dec. 7, 2012 incident in which the court heard compelling testimony from Rep. Janet U. Maratita about threats that Ayuyu made against her in an attempt to bully and intimidate her in connection with a matter under consideration by the Legislature.

Pixley said he read the government's motion and that he is surprised because the issues presented have no basis whatsoever.

Pixley said the government is basing its case on the statements of Ryan Manglona, who is charged with perjury or false declarations, among other things.

The defense lawyer said after Ayuyu was released on bail in November, he did not see any evidence that the senator communicated with Ryan Manglona.

Backe, however, insisted that Ayuyu contacted Ryan Manglona and that the prosecution can prove that.

During the continuation of the hearing yesterday afternoon, Backe insisted to order Ayuyu to submit to a drug test as they have information that the senator has problem with substance abuse.

Pixley, who was with co-counsel Joaquin Torres, said the government failed to submit evidence of prior drug use.

Judge Manglona then talked to the lawyers to the sidebar.

After a few minutes, the judge announced that she has received additional information from the prosecution showing the need to order for drug test.

The first indictment charged Ayuyu and Ryan Manglona with conspiracy to violate the Endangered Species Act and Lacey Act, one count of violating the Endangered Species Act, and one count of violating the Lacey Act.

If found guilty, both defendants face a statutory maximum sentence of one year' imprisonment and a maximum fine of $25,000 for each offense.

A separate indictment was returned charging Manglona with three counts of false declarations before the grand jury and one count of obstruction of justice.

Only a few people watched the hearing yesterday. Tinian Sen. Jude Hofschneider watched the hearing in the afternoon.

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