June 14, 2013
The reign of ex-Governor Fitial and ex-Lt. Governor Villagomez will be remembered for corruption and schemes. They ran on a platform of "better times", but their constituents faced bitter times and economic hardship. Now the duo and their co-conspirators are dealing with their own bitter times.
Ex-CNMI Lt. Governor Timothy P. Villagomez was in U.S. District Court this week to face re-sentencing for misusing public funds in the Commonwealth Utility Corporation's Rydlyme scandal. He has been serving a seven year, three month sentence in an Arizona federal prison before being returned to the CNMI for re-sentencing hearing.
Villagomez appealed his case to the Ninth District Court of Appeals where he lost his appeal. However, in April 2013, the appeals court determined that the district court had erred in his sentencing.
From the court order:
"The district court erred in finding that a four-level increase for Villagomez for participating in high-level public corruption would be double counting when combined with his base level of 14, which was based on his status as a public official. In calculating the Sentencing Guidelines range, “double counting” is allowed when the increases account for distinct harms. United States v. Holt, 510 F.3d 1007, 1012 (9th Cir. 2007). As opposed to the base-level for all public officials, U.S.S.G. § 2C1.1(b)(3) applies a 4-level increase to all defendants involved in a crime of high-level corruption, whether a public official or otherwise."
"Thus, the distinct harm at which § 2C1.1(b)(3) is aimed is the corruption of high level public officials as distinct from an individual official’s breach of the public trust."
"For the foregoing reasons, we AFFIRM the district court with respect to the Defendants’ appeals, and we VACATE Villagomez’s sentence and REMAND for new sentencing proceedings consistent with this disposition."The Government asked for a sentence of 108 months, while the Defense requested 87 months. Villagomez was sentenced to 60 months for Count I, Conspiracy to Defraud and Commit Offenses Against the United States, and was sentenced to 108 months on Count II, Wire Fraud; Count III, Theft Concerning a Program receiving Federal Funds; and Count IV, Bribery Concerning a Program Receiving Federal Funds to be served concurrently with credit for time served.
After his release, Villagomez will serve three years of probation. Villagomez and his co-conspirators, James Santos and Joaquina Santos, will together pay $336,125 in restitution to CUC.
NMI Emeritus Chief Judge Alex R. Munson stated that because the felon took responsibility for his criminal acts, the judge knocked off years from the sentence that he could have served.
Villagomez is currently listed as "in transit" on the Federal Bureau of Prisons locator indicating that he is returning to the Tucson, AZ federal prison.
At the same time ex-governor Benigno Fitial is reportedly still holding out in the Philippines instead of returning to the CNMI to face charges. He fled from the CNMI in February 2013 immediately after resigning from office rather than face removal. He was impeached on 13 counts of misconduct by the CNMI House.
Fitial had seven criminal charges filed against him for his involvement in conspiring with former AG Buckingham. Superior Court Associate Judge David Wiseman initially issued an arrest warrant, but withdrew it for a penal summons because of Fitial's position. The ex-governor was ordered to appear in court the first Monday after receiving the summons, but he fled to the Philippines and has not returned.
Last month George Hasselback, the legal counsel for the Office of the Public Auditor requested that the Superior Court re-issue the arrest warrant for Fitial. Since the penal summons was issued in February 2013, neither Fitial nor his representative has many any contact with the OPA.
It was reported that the governor had gall bladder surgery weeks ago in Manilla and is using his recovery as an excuse to evade the responsibility of returning to the CNMI.
Hasselback said that until an arrest warrant is issued, he "can't do much" to get Fitial returned to the CNMI. Few think that the cowardly former "leader" will return on his own and expect that he will only return if forced to in handcuffs.
Ex-CNMI Attorney General Edward Buckingham III, who conspired with ex-Governor Fitial in a number of corrupt schemes, is back in Colorado until his February 3, 2014 court date. Buckingham has 12 charges filed against him for violating election law to illegalities in the awarding of contracts.
Superior Court Associate Judge Kenneth Govendo modified Buckingham's bail so he could return to Colorado for medical treatment. Buckingham posted $50,000 cash bail. He was required to surrender his passport to his legal counsel and must return no later than January 26, 2014.
Meanwhile CNMI Rep. Christopher D. Leon Guerrero pre-filed a bill that would impose consequences for those in authority who order subordinates to commit legal acts. HB 18-87 would make it a felony to order others to break the law. Violators would face prison time, fines and community service.
The actions of ex-Governor Fitial and ex-CNMI AG Buckingham ordering DPS officers to shield the AG from being served a penal summons appear to be the impetus for the bill.
The law may serve as a deterrent for those who are considering using their authority to abuse power by enlisting the help of others under their control. Still wouldn't officials or others who order others to commit unlawful acts be charged with conspiracy and/or obstruction of justice?