November 26, 2008

By Bill Jayes
The Kaselehlie Press

Kosrae, FSM - Charges for theft of FSM funds were filed on September 3, 2008 in the Supreme Court of the Federated States of Micronesia in the State of Kosrae against two residents of Kosrae working for the National Aquaculture Center.

Likiak Phillip who served as the Manager for the National Aquaculture Center in Kosrae is accused of stealing more than $31,400 collected for the sale of clams in Kosrae over a two year period between April, 2005 and May 2007. Carolyn Benjamin is accused of stealing over $400 in funds collected at the gift shop for sale of souvenir items during that time.

If convicted Phillip could face a jail term of up to ten years and a fine of up to $100,000 dollars. Benjamin, if she is convicted would face imprisonment of up to a year and a possible fine of up to $5000.

According to the document filed with the FSM Supreme Court in Kosrae, on October 30, 2007, Detective Burt Talley and Investigative Auditor Sophia Pretrick met Phillip at the NAC conference room. After being informed of his rights and waiving them Phillip admitted that he had repeatedly received and failed to deposit money belonging to NAC and used the money for purposes other than what it was intended for.

Talley and Pretrick met on the same day with Benjamin who also was informed of her rights which she waived. Benjamin told the law enforcement officers that although she usually gave Phillip the revenue collected from the local sales she admitted to having occasionally taken money belonging to NAC in the approximate amount of $200.

Although Carolyn Benjamin showed up for her initial appearance before the court on September 10, 2008, Likiak Phillip did not appear. Assistant Attorney General Lorrie Johnson-Asher, representing the FSM Government told the court that she had initiated proceedings to extradite Phillip back to the FSM. She did not request the issuance of an arrest warrant saying that attempts were still underway to locate Phillip.

The initial appearance before the court was to advise the defendants of their rights as a person accused of a crime. Benjamin, after being informed of her rights was released on her own recognizance after the FSM attorney said that Benjamin was not a flight risk. The release was subject to conditions. She cannot leave the state of Kosrae without written permission of the court. She had to inform the Justice Ombudsman, Mr. Marris Jackson, of her permanent residence and immediately provide new residence information if her residence changes. By the 12th, she was required to surrender her passport to Mr. Jackson who would issue her a receipt.

Associate Justice Dennis K. Yamase is presiding over the court proceedings and presided over the initial hearing by telephone from Pohnpei. On behalf of Carolyn Benjamin the proceedings were translated into the Kosraen language.

Her temporary attorney, Mr. Steve George of the FSM Public Defender's Office in Kosrae said on her behalf that she had understood the proceedings.

According to the Office of the National Public Auditor a trial date has not yet been determined and Phillip is still outside of the FSM.