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MARIANAS LT. GOVERNOR’S LAWYERS MOVE FOR ACQUITTAL Judge denies motion cites sufficient evidence against Villagomez

By Raquel Bagnol

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety April 22, 2009)—United States District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Alex R. Munson denied the motion for judgment of acquittal filed by Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Villagomez, former Commerce Secretary James A. Santos and wife Joaquina V. Santos.

"After 17 days of testimony in the case, it is hard to identify each piece of evidence, whether direct or circumstantial, but the totality of the evidence received by the court is sufficient to satisfy the jury," Munson said.

He denied the motion for acquittal in all counts of the indictment against the defendants for conspiracy to commit offenses against the federal government.

Judgment of acquittal

Defense lawyers Leilani Lujan and David Lujan for Villagomez, Victorino Torres for James Santos and Ramon Quichocho for Joaquina Santos all filed motions for judgment of acquittal pursuant to Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure 29.

Leilani Lujan presented her motion first, arguing that the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that all elements in the charges for conspiracy to commit offenses against the federal government.

"Conspiracy requires the agreement between two or more people but the testimonies of the witnesses did not show any agreement between Villagomez, James Santos and Joaquina Santos in any of the transactions," Leilani Lujan said.

She pointed out that the prosecution’s star witness, former Commonwealth Utilities Corp. Executive Director Anthony Guerrero, was not able to establish any agreement transpired between the defendants to enter into the transaction.

She said not one oral or written agreement had been established, an argument which was reiterated by defense lawyers Torres and Quichocho.

"All throughout the testimony of the government witnesses, there was not even one evidence presented to satisfy the elements of conspiracy, wire fraud, theft in government federal funds and bribery," Lujan said.

The lawyer added that there was no evidence in the testimony that the three defendants agreed or intended to cheat or deceive the government, or evidence of embezzling or stealing by fraud or misrepresentations.

Lujan said the government needs to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the elements of bribery will be satisfied.

She said that the charges are all speculations, innuendos and circumstantial evidence.

Lujan said the $15,000 check James Santos issued to Villagomez on Dec. 7, 2007 was for drydock, repair and equipment as evidenced by government exhibit #83-A.

"All the elements of the charges fail — there is no sufficient evidence and we ask for a judgment of acquittal in favor of the defendants," Lujan argued.

But Munson in his ruling held that "people do not write down on paper that they are going to commit conspiracy, neither would people write down contracts involving bribery."

The judge added that circumstantial evidence is just as strong as direct evidence.

Torres said no evidence was established that James Santos used his position as commerce secretary to push through with the Rydlyme transaction with CUC.

Torres argued that Santos made full disclosures of the transaction by presenting all invoices at the time he delivered the product.

"There were no false pretences or misrepresentations," Torres said.

Quichocho argued that no evidence was established to point that his client, Joaquina Santos, can be charged for aiding or abetting.

"Joaquina Santos did not abet anybody in any crime. For someone to be charged of abetting, a crime must be established first but there was no crime established," Quichocho said.

He said giving a high price for Rydlyme was not a crime.

CUC paid $120,000 for 3,000 gallons of Rydlyme, or $40 a gallon on Nov. 2007.

The manufacturer’s price of Rydlyme was $9.95 a gallon.

Joaquina Santos is Villagomez’s sister.

Sufficient evidence

Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric S. O’Malley said the element of conspiracy between Villagomez and the Santos couple was established as evidenced by the numerous letter, emails and telephone calls the defendants made to CUC to push for the transaction and the payment of Rydlyme.

He said testimony showed that Villagomez exerted pressure on CUC to purchase Rydlyme from James and Joaquina Santos which CUC paid a high price for.

"The transaction deprived CUC of money to buy other things because the money went instead to the pockets of the Santos couple," O’Malley said.

He added that the offense of wire fraud was established as evidenced by a bank certification that the transaction to wire transfer money amounting to over $30,000 pushed through.

On the charges of bribery, O’Malley pointed out that James Santos issued a $15,000 check to Villagomez on Dec. 7, 2006, a day after the $50,000 check payment for Rydlyme was picked up.

"With all evidence established, the government has sufficient evidence for the jury to deliberate on the case," O’Malley said.

No witnesses

The defense listed 23 witnesses at the start of the jury trial, and they were expected to call out their first witness yesterday after the government rested its case.

But David Lujan, Torres and Quichocho rested their case after stating that they would not call any witness to the stand.

Villagomez included his brother, Public Health Secretary Joseph Kevin Villagomez on his witness list.

The 12 regular jurors and three alternates will have the dayoff today but they will be back for the oral arguments which will start at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow.

The jury trial for the defendants began on March 30.

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