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Investigators say vessel was ill-gotten payment

By Ferdie de la Torre SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, August 11, 2009) - The U.S. Marshal’s Office took custody Saturday of the yacht owned by former lieutenant governor Timothy P. Villagomez.

The vessel, a 1994 Yamaha 31-footer boat registered as Dr. V, is subject to a forfeiture case filed by the U.S. government.

The U.S. Marshal served the warrant for the boat on Villagomez. The boat is currently being held at the Smiling Cove Marina.

U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Alex R. Munson issued the warrant on Thursday, directing the U.S. Marshal’s Office to seize the vessel.

Munson directed the U.S. Marshal’s Office to use whatever means necessary to protect and maintain the boat in their custody until a further court order.

Munson issued the warrant after the U.S. government on Thursday filed a complaint for civil forfeiture against Dr. V.

The judge said he reviewed the U.S. government’s complaint as well as its application for warrant of arrest, including an affidavit of a Federal Bureau of Investigation special agent.

Munson said a review of the documents shows probable cause to believe that the boat is subject to forfeiture, in accordance with the Supplemental Rules of Admiralty or Marine Claims and Asset Forfeiture Actions.

In his affidavit, FBI special agent Joseph Auther stated that during the trial of Villagomez and co-defendants James A. Santos and Joaquina Santos, it was established through testimony and documentary evidence that Villagomez bought Dr. V in 2006 for a price of between US$45,000 and US$60,000.

As declared by Villagomez, the money to buy the boat was received from James Santos and his wife, Joaquina Santos, Auther said.

He said James Santos signed a US$50,000 check on Oct. 31, 2006, drawn against an account belonging to Islas Micronesia Sales, a company wholly-owned by James Santos, and made payable to Villagomez.

The agent said ISLAS was one of the companies through which the defendants perpetrated the scheme to defraud the Commonwealth Utilities Corp.

On December 7, 2007, James Santos signed a check drawn against on account owned by himself and Joaquina Santos and made payable Villagomez in the amount of US$15,000, Auther said. The check had the note "dry-dock/repair/equipment," he added.

In addition to the evidence produced at trial, Auther said an FBI investigation revealed that Villagomez paid US$45,000 in cash for Dr. V on Sept. 28, 2006. At the time of purchase, Auther said, the boat was in need of repairs estimated to be at least US$15,000.

The agent said that since Villagomez purchased the boat but prior to Dec. 7, 2007, Villagomez paid for maintenance, repairs, and improvements to the vessel, the sum total of which was US$15,000 to US$20,000.

"The costs associated with the Dr. V included costs for dry-docking, equipment, and repairs," he said.

"There is reasonable belief that Dr. V constitutes, or was derived from, proceeds from the crimes of wire fraud and fraud relating to the program receiving federal funds," Auther added.

Last week Munson sentenced Villagomez to seven years and three months in prison for his role in the Rydlyme corruption scandal.

Joaquina Santos and James A. Santos were sentenced to six years and six months in prison each for their involvement in the scheme to defraud CUC and the United States.

The defendants said they will appeal.

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