Plea Bargaining Falters In RMI Grand Larceny Case

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Man, woman charged with stealing money from local retailer

By Giff Johnson

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Dec. 24, 2012) – Disputes over plea bargain agreements are highlighting the Marshall Islands’ prosecution of large-scale theft from Triple J Payless, Majuro’s largest retail store, during 2010 and 2011.

Charlene Andrik has rejected a plea bargain deal put together by her lawyer and prosecutors, and her Payless theft case is now expected to go to trial next year.

While Andrik decided on the day of her court hearing last week to reject the deal, in another criminal prosecution involving theft from Payless, the Chief Justice rejected a plea bargain and increased the sentence of Jaston Lang who agreed to plead guilty even in the face of the judge’s rejection of the agreement.

In Andrik’s case, she is accused of stealing more than $9,000 from Payless last year. A trial was set for December 4 on three charges each of grand larceny and cheating, but was taken off the calendar when Andrik’s attorney Chief Public Defender Russell Kun and Assistant Attorney General Jack Jorbon told the court they had a plea agreement. Judge James Plasman set a hearing on the plea deal last week, but on the day, Kun informed Plasman his client did not want to sign the agreement, and Andrik confirmed this at the hearing.

The agreement would have sentenced her to serve 18 months in jail and require her pay $750 per month in restitution for the money stolen. But this is now off the table and Judge Plasman set January 11 for a status conference in the case to decide next steps.

Lang came before Chief Justice Carl Ingram for sentencing earlier this month. He pled guilty in October to grand larceny and conspiracy, and a third charge of cheating was dismissed as part of a deal between his lawyer, Deputy Public Defender Karotu Tiba, and Jorbon. The sentence in the deal was to serve one year of a three-year sentence and to repay Payless $9,991.

But Ingram rejected the deal and said Lang could change his plea to not guilty and go to trial, or continue with his guilty plea and be sentenced as the court decides.

After consulting with Tiba, Lang decided to maintain his guilty plea.

Ingram has now sentenced him to serve three years of a five-year jail term — triple the jail time of the proposed agreement rejected earlier. Lang is scheduled to be released on October 29, 2015.

In the sentencing order, Chief Justice Ingram noted that it had been established that $79,940 worth of goods had been stolen from Payless and said Lang could be held liable for the entire amount that he and his co-conspirators stole. But Ingram accepted the plea deal plan for Lang to pay $9,991 in restitution, saying that he is aware that the Attorney General’s office is seeking Lang’s cooperation to prosecute others involved in the theft. If others are convicted, Ingram said, they will also be required to pay restitution.

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