BRIBERY ADDED TO CHARGES AGAINST CNMI LT. GOVERNOR

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Villagomez and co-defendants earlier charged with fraud

By Ferdie de la Torre

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Jan. 16, 2009) – The U.S. government filed additional charges against Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Villagomez and co-defendants James and Joaquina Santos yesterday, adding bribery to the charges already being faced by the three.

The new charge alleges that Villagomez accepted a $15,000 bribe from the Santos couple for approving the purchase of Rydlyme, a cleaning and de-scaling chemical, for the Commonwealth Utilities Corp.

The new indictment also added a count of bribery against the Santos couple for allegedly offering the $15,000 to Villagomez.

The superseding indictment retained the previous charges filed against the three: conspiracy to defraud and to commit offenses against the U.S., wire fraud, and theft concerning a program receiving federal funds.

Villagomez and the Santos couple are expected to appear this morning, Friday, in the U.S. District Court for the NMI.

Saipan Tribune tried yesterday to contact the lawyers for Villagomez and the Santos couple but only attorney Ramon Quichocho was available.

Quichocho, lawyer for Joaquina Santos, declined to comment, however, because he said he was still reviewing the superseding indictment.

In an interview with Saipan Tribune, Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric O'Malley said the superseding indictment was filed because of the additional charges and as part of their ongoing investigation.

"We needed to ascertain and learn as many of the facts as we could. We want to make sure that it is what we think it is," O'Malley said.

The indictment states that on Dec. 7, 2007, James Santos signed a check in the amount of $15,000 drawn upon an account belonging to himself and Joaquina Santos, and made payable to Villagomez.

O'Malley said that on the same day, Villagomez deposited the check into his personal bank account.

A day before that, Dec. 6, 2007, Joaquina Santos allegedly deposited a CUC Operations Fund check in the amount of $50,000 into an account belonging to Blue Pacific as payment for Rydlyme.

O'Malley said that on Jan. 15, 2008, a co-conspirator, acting on behalf of CUC, authorized payment of $10,000 to Blue Pacific.

O'Malley said that on Jan. 16, 2008, Joaquina Santos deposited another CUC Operations Fund check into an account belonging to Blue Pacific.

The prosecutor said that on multiple occasions throughout the 2007 transaction, Villagomez, acting from the Office of the Lieutenant Governor, contacted co-conspirators, as well as other CUC officers and employees, and pressured them into concluding the contract and making the payments to Blue Pacific and the Santos couple.

James Santos was the alleged owner and operator of a company named ISLAS, which supplied CUC with Rydlyme. ISLAS was then allegedly reconstituted under a different name, Blue Pacific.

The defendants allegedly conspired to bilk the CNMI government out of thousands of dollars through business deals involving needless purchases of Rydlyme for CUC.

Villagomez and the Santos couple have pleaded not guilty. Former CUC executive director Anthony Guerrero who was also charged with wire fraud, conspiracy, and theft of federal funds, signed a plea agreement and entered a guilty plea.

Saipan Tribune http://www.saipantribune.com

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