Former NMI Lt. Governor Gets Increased Jail Sentence

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Villagomez credited for time served since 2009

By Ferdie de la Torre

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, June 13, 2013) – Former Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Villagomez's original sentence of seven years and three months in prison was lengthened to nine years during a resentencing hearing yesterday at the U.S. District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands.

It could have been more, but U.S. District Court for the NMI Emeritus Chief Judge Alex R. Munson knocked off two years in recognition of the former lieutenant governor accepting responsibility for his crime.

Villagomez was given credit for the time he has already served in prison since August 2009.

He admitted that he received an estimated $25,000 cash from the conspiracy.

"I accept full responsibility for my crimes," he said.

Wearing a maroon inmate's shirt and gray pants, Villagomez looked fit compared to when he appeared at his trial in April 2009. His head was well shaved.

Shortly before the hearing began, Villagomez turned to face the gallery and repeatedly murmured "thank you" to family members, relatives, and friends.

Throughout the hearing that began at 9:10am and lasted at 10:40am, his hands were handcuffed in front. He also had leg restraints.

In justifying the sentence, Munson said that Villagomez as then lieutenant governor of the Commonwealth was in a position of public trust.

Munson said that Villagomez conspired with others to defraud and to commit offenses against the U.S., wire fraud, theft concerning a program receiving federal funds, and bribery concerning a program receiving federal funds, that damaged the public trust.

The judge, however, noted that it is Villagomez's first criminal case. He believes that the sentence will send a strong message to anybody else predisposed to commit the same crimes.

After serving his sentence, Villagomez will be placed on three years' probation. He was ordered to pay $346,125 in restitution to the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. (CUC), jointly with former Commerce secretary James A. Santos and Joaquina V. Santos.

Villagomez was also required to perform 200 hours of community service. The fines were waived due to the large amount of restitution he will need to pay.

Before ruling on the acceptance of responsibility issue, the judge gave Villagomez a chance to speak in court.

Reading his handwritten statement, Villagomez said he is remorseful for his offenses.

He said he conspired with his sister, Joaquina V. Santos, and his brother-in-law James A. Santos, in procuring the de-scaling chemical Rydlyme by directing CUC staff to circumvent procurement regulations.

As then lieutenant governor, Villagomez said he directed then CUC executive director Anthony Guerrero to purchase Rydlyme. In return for the conspiracy, Villagomez said he received $15,000 from the Santos couple.

"I apologize to the citizens of the Commonwealth," he said.

Villagomez said his years of incarceration has taught him a lot about life and changed him. He said when he completes his sentence he will be a productive member of the community and "make right the wrong" that he had done.

Munson asked Villagomez whether he received more than $15,000 in the conspiracy.

Villagomez paused, then disclosed that in sum he received an estimated $25,000.

"Are you sure? You did not receive $100,000?" Munson asked.

Villagomez replied, "No."

Munson wondered why Villagomez would do these things that benefited the Santos couple in excess of $300,000 and yet got only $25,000 out of it.

"They were doing business with CUC. I just approved the orders," Villagomez explained.

Munson again expressed disbelief that Villagomez did those acts for only $25,000 since the conspiracy benefited the Santos couple in excess of $300,000.

Villagomez explained it's not about him but for his sister. He admitted, though, that he indirectly received benefits from his sister such as fuel for his boat and dinner.

When asked if the intent was to steal money from CUC or the Commonwealth, Villagomez replied, "Yes your honor."

Munson stated that the issue of acceptance of responsibility is "a close call." He believes that Villagomez "is a changed man" after having been in prison for over three years.

Munson agreed with the defendant's acceptance of responsibility.

After the judge made such ruling, some of Villagomez's family members, relatives, and friends in the gallery were in tears.

Assistant attorney general Ross Naughton had recommended a sentence of 108 months in prison-the lowest in the sentencing guidelines range.

Defense counsel Colin Thompson recommended a sentence of seven years and three months in prison-the same sentence that Munson imposed on Villagomez in August 2009.

It is not clear yet as to when Villagomez will be taken back to the U.S. mainland to continue serving his sentence.

U.S. Marshal escorted Villagomez from a federal prison in Arizona to Saipan two weeks ago for the resentencing.

Munson conducted the resentencing after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit vacated Villagomez's sentence on Dec. 18, 2012, and ordered that he be resentenced after finding that Munson made a mistake in calculating the defendant's sentence.

Munson sentenced Villagomez in August 2009 to seven years and three months in prison for his conviction in a conspiracy to defraud CUC through needless purchases of a de-scaling chemical called Rydlyme.

The Santos couple were also sentenced in August 2009 to six years and six months in prison each. They are expected to complete their sentences on April 21, 2015.

The case came to be called the Rydlyme scandal, after the de-scaling chemical's brand name.

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