PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Federal prosecutors trying a United Arab Emirates naval officer on charges of keeping an unpaid servant in his Rhode Island home could lose their star witness.
Col. Arif Mohamed Saeed Mohamed Al-Ali's lawyer on Friday asked U.S. District Court Chief Judge Mary M. Lisi to block Elizabeth Cabitla Ballesteros's return to the witness stand because the defense team was not given translations, photos and cell phone downloads before her cross-examination began on Monday.
Al-Ali is accused of luring Ballesteros to the U.S., withholding her wages and taking her passport while she worked for him while he attended the Naval War College in Newport.
Lisi already threw out Ballesteros's testimony because an interpreter retained by prosecutors failed to translate questions posed to the witness and her responses verbatim. Prosecutors plan to use a different interpreter if Ballesteros testifies again. Ballesteros is Filipina and speaks a dialect of the Tagalog language.
Defense attorney Robert C. Corrente said his cross-examination of Ballesteros has been "fatally compromised" by the "government's misconduct" in withholding evidence. He gave an example where he quizzed Ballesteros on cross examination about whether she had to clean the Al-Ali's basement. Ballesteros testified she cleaned the basement, where there was a couch and television. Corrente said he now has photos from the government that show the basement is unfinished.
"We got some serious, serious problems here," Corrente said. "There is no good explanation for this, judge."
Corrente asserted that, before trial, prosecutors did not give him a certified translation of a transcript of text messages exchanged by Ballesteros and another Filipina woman, Cecilia Heredia; 70 photographs; and the April police downloads of data from cellphones belonging to Heredia and Ballesteros.
Corrente also said the certified translation of the text messages exchanged by the two women is "wildly different" from a translation provided by Ballesteros's civil attorney in New York.
Some of the text messages downloaded from Heredia's phone and provided to Ballesteros's civil attorney last year are not included in the data taken off her phone by the Warwick police in April, Corrente said. Heredia testified she deletes "unnecessary" messages and also deleted some messages last October when she was having difficulty sending pictures from her phone.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Rogers apologized to Al-Ali and Lisi for not providing the defense with the certified translation, but she said Ballesteros should be allowed to testify because Corrente has a week to go over the evidence he just received before the trial resumes on Aug. 1.
Lisi said the problem with the interpreter hired by the prosecution is the only reason that extra time exists.
"I'm embarrassed that I'm in this situation, but it doesn't change the fact that the prejudice doesn't exist when it's time to cross examine," Rogers said.
Lisi appeared angry at times while listening to Rogers's arguments.
Memos are due to Lisi on Thursday. Ballesteros is the last witness the prosecution wants to call before resting its case.
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