CNMI Man Found Not Guilty Of Enticing Minors Into Prostitution

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Former Acting Director of Division of Fish and Wildlife walks free

By Ferdie De La Torre

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Sept, 30, 2014) – A federal court jury rendered a unanimous verdict yesterday, acquitting Raymond B. Roberto of all charges that he enticed three minor girls to engage in prostitution and tampered a witness while he was in jail.

After nine days of deliberation, the 12 jurors found the 41-year-old Roberto not guilty of three counts of enticing minors to engage in prostitution and one count of witness tampering.

After a court staff read the verdict at 2:40pm, Roberto stood up, cried, and tightly hugged his counsel, Joaquin DLG. Torres. His lead counsel, Guam lawyer David J. Lujan, was not present.

Roberto’s wife and older brother were also in tears.

U.S. District Court for the NMI Magistrate Judge Heather Kennedy thanked the jurors and ordered Roberto’s release.

As he walked free outside the Department of Corrections in Susupe, Roberto told reporters that the U.S. government withheld a lot of information in this case. He refused to elaborate.

Roberto is a former acting director of the CNMI Division of Fish and Wildlife.

Torres said he is always a big believer of the jury system.

"Although it’s not always [that we] get our way, this time it has and the jury saw the case. They deliberated for long time and we thank them so much. We thank every single one of them for the verdict that they’ve come up," Torres said.

Next up for Roberto is to regroup and start all over, he said, adding that Roberto deserves to get back his work because there is no reason why he shouldn’t go back to his old job.

When asked if the defense team was surprised with the evidence the prosecution presented, Torres replied "no," that they knew the game plan and just did their best.

Torres said probably the most difficult part of the case for the defense was dealing with the age of the girls.

Torres said Roberto’s wife also thanked him for returning her husband to her.

Adrian Palacios Murig, the jury’s foreperson, said they took into consideration everything that was brought to them during the trial, the physical evidence such as the binders that were given to them to review and all the logs, text messages, a lot of documents, and also the oral testimony that they heard in the courtroom.

Murig declined to comment when asked if the jury believes that Roberto did not have sex with any of the three girls.

"That was one of the questions, but one of the jurors stressed that they don’t believe that was the question of the case," he said.

Murig said the jurors believe that the question was whether or not Roberto enticed the alleged victims or minors.

"We cannot pinpoint exactly who is texting. The phone can be registered to anybody. You can borrow my phone and text one," he said. "It’s something that you would want to see with your bare eyes for such a punishment or for such a case or allegations to anybody."

Murig said they all agreed that the number was Roberto’s phone, but that to actually say that he was the one texting, they’re not there to know the actual person who pressed the "sent" button.

"The jury as a whole just asks the community to please respect our verdict," he said.

Murig admitted that he was questioned last week over a Micronesia Islands Nature Alliance’s Green Gala event where he met by coincidence Rep. Chris Leon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan), who served as one of the defense’s investigators.

Murig said he had a couple of drinks with Leon Guerrero, but they never discussed the case. He said Leon Guerrero saw his relative, a politician, so he came to their table.

"All we spoke about was a picture painting that he [Leon Guerrero] was bidding for," Murig said.

The trial began on Aug. 8. Jury selection lasted seven days—said to be the longest so far in the CNMI. Assistant U.S. Attorney Rami S. Badawy and U.S. Attorney for the Districts of Guam and NMI Alicia M. Limtiaco prosecuted the case.

Aside from retaining Lujan and Torres as his counsel, Roberto also hired Leon Guerrero and two private investigators from Guam.

The prosecution called 10 witnesses, including the three underage victims, while the defense called nine witnesses.

In the third superseding indictment, Badawy alleged that Roberto persuaded three underage girls to engage in prostitution or in sexual activity from March 1, 2013 to July 18, 2013.

On the witness tampering matter, Badawy stated that the offense happened on April 24, 2014 while Roberto was detained pending trial.

Badawy said the defendant attempted to obstruct, influence, and impede the case by attempting to influence the testimony of an individual.

The prosecutor said Roberto attempted to persuade the same individual to alter, destroy, and conceal evidence.

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