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  • Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
  • Samuel F. McPhetres (bio)

In July 2008, rumors began circulating that Lieutenant Governor Timothy Villagomez was under investigation for some unknown federal crime. The FBI called members of the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation (CUC) in to a grand jury. By mid-August, it was rumored that Villagomez had been arrested at a convention of lieutenant governors in New York. This was denied by the administration of Governor Benigno Fitial. However, by Monday, 14 August, both local newspapers had front-page articles about the arrest and indictment of Villagomez, his sister Joaquina Santos, and Secretary of Commerce James Santos, who is married to Villagomez's sister. Also arrested was Tony Guerrero, who was CUC executive director at the time, having succeeded Villagomez. Tony Guerrero immediately accepted a plea bargain with the federal attorney and agreed to testify against the other three.

At issue was the sale, over several years, of Rydlyme, a chemical used to clean pipes around generators. A company owned by Joaquina and James Santos sold 8,000 gallons of the descaler to the utilities corporation at a 400 percent markup. The federal charges include three felony counts of wire fraud, conspiracy and theft involving federal funds, and bribery. Villagomez, his sister, and her husband were all charged and released on $50,000 unsecured bonds; Guerrero was released on a $10,000 unsecured bond. Investigations lasting eight months revealed that only 11 percent of the chemical was ever used. According to the twelve-page indictment, the chemical, which was bought in several installments over several years for about $300,000, was used only for cleaning floors or was put into storage on Rota and Tinian. Despite the charges, Villagomez remained in office, actively performing his duties as lieutenant governor.

The trial lasted for almost three weeks and incorporated some defense techniques that will probably go down in the annals of jurisprudence as very unconventional. The first was the "mango defense," in which one defense attorney, in his closing remarks, faced the jury from behind a podium and pulled out two mangoes. He presented them to the jury and said that the one in his right hand was a Hayden mango, which was imported from Hawai'i. In the other hand, he held a carabao mango, which was grown locally. The local mango was, of course, sweeter than the imported. [End Page 144] This was a veiled reference to the federal court and the prosecution being a foreign agency and the defendant a local person. Another defense lawyer showed a PowerPoint presentation, which, after describing the female FBI agent who was the main investigator for the prosecution as probably a very nice person, included a photograph of a snarling wolf looking out of the screen and a wolf howling on the soundtrack. This was meant to characterize the key FBI investigator as a wolf in sheep's clothing. In spite of these antics and many others, the jury took only four hours to return guilty verdicts on all charges for all three defendants. Sentencing was originally set for 28 July 2009 but has been rescheduled for 5 August. Sentencing for Tony Guerrero took place on 21 June; he received three years probation, 500 hours of community service, and a $6,000 fine. On conviction, Villagomez formally resigned from his position as lieutenant governor.

In the meantime, the defense has been filing motions with the federal court, charging judicial misconduct and jury tampering, among other things. Defense attorneys want the guilty verdict overturned by the judge or a new trial, neither of which has been approved as of this writing.

In August 2008, Saipan was experiencing massive power-supply problems throughout the island. In September, CUC Executive Director Tony Muña (appointed to replace Tony Guerrero after his indictment) received authorization from the CNMI executive and legislative branches to enter into a one-year, $500,000 a month, contract with Aggreko, a Singapore-based generator company. Fifteen container-sized generators were transported to Saipan and brought on line to relieve the pressure on the old mainline generators while repairs and maintenance were being made. Brownouts and blackouts became fairly rare, and work on the CUC generators...