FSM Supreme Court releases first person successfully convicted of Human Trafficking after six months

By Bill Jaynes

The Kaselehlie Press

May 8, 2018

Weno, Chuuk—On May 8, Associate Justice Larry Wentworth amended his October 27, 2017 written Judgment of Conviction against Cortez Benedicto to correspond with the oral sentence Wentworth issued.

Benedicto and Rieta Eram were the first people to have been successfully convicted of the crime of human trafficking involving the abuse of a girl who was at the time of the crimes only 14 years old.  The crimes could have landed the defendants in jail for up to 45 years with the possibility of $75,000 in fines.  But the written sentence that Wentworth handed down required Benedicto to pay a $5000 fine, to spend his weekends in jail, and to be confined at the GPPC Construction camp when he was not working for a period a total of 15 months.  Eram was sentenced to only 15 months of probation for knowingly providing a minor in her custody for the purposes of sexual exploitation in exchange for cash and other material benefits.

Justices are not required to define reasons for their sentences and no reason was given for the light sentences at that time.  And now, at least in the case of Benedicto, the already light sentence is even lighter. During sentencing, Wentworth said that if Benedicto had abided by all of the conditions of his sentence, including the payment of the $5,000 fine, and if his employment ends in April 2018, he would be permitted to leave the FSM at that time.

The May 8 Order Conforming Sentence said that since Benedicto had complied with all of the terms of his sentence, once his travel arrangements were made the court would return his passport the day before his flight. Until then, Benedicto was subject to the sentence imposed on him including weekends in jail.

He gets to go home to the Philippines after paying a fine and serving a light sentence for six months.

FSM’s Human Trafficking law was designed to serve as a significant deterrent to the crime for those people who might consider violating the human rights of others.  However, the law does not prescribe a minimum sentence.

“We have to respect the Court’s decision because that is how the criminal justice system works. We will work within the law and keep on enforcing it. If we need the law to be amended for more strict minimum punishments we can ask Congress to consider that possibility as an amendment,” said Joses Gallen, FSM’s Secretary for the Department of Justice after the initial sentence was handed down in October of last year.

Meanwhile, Eram still will continue to serve her light sentence of 15 months of probation.

The victim’s sentence is not court appointed.