By Ferdie de la Torre
Former Rota customs officer Albert A. Taitano and former Division of Fish and Wildlife staff David A. Santos are expected to appear in federal court today for a change of plea hearing in connection with charges of conspiring to poach a breeding colony of Mariana fruit bats in 2008.
The trial in this case is supposed to start on Jan. 13, 2014, but the two, together with their respective counsels, entered a plea deal with the U.S. government.
Assistant U.S. attorney Garth R. Backe on Tuesday informed the court about the plea deal. U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona set the change of plea hearing for today, Friday, at 1:30pm.
Taitano and Santos were indicted in 2011 with retired police lieutenant Adrian Mendiola for the same alleged poaching incident in 2008.
Only Mendiola’s jury trial pushed through in May 2011 in federal court. Jurors found Mendiola guilty of unlawful possession of a threatened wildlife but not guilty of unlawful receipt or acquisition of threatened wildlife.
The court dismissed the charges against Taitano and Santos without prejudice at the prosecution’s request.
In October 2012, the U.S. government refiled the charges against Taitano and Mendiola. The indictment charged them with conspiring to unlawfully take a threatened species and one count of taking a threatened species.
On April 13, 2013, the U.S. government filed a superseding indictment, charging Taitano and Mendiola with conspiring to unlawfully take and transport a threatened species, taking a threatened species, and transporting a threatened species taken in violation of law.
The U.S. government also seeks the forfeiture of the defendants’ shotguns.
According to the indictment, Taitano and Santos went to a land claimed by the Ogo family to hunt Mariana fruit bats on Nov. 1, 2008, on Rota.