Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Villagomez and co-defendants James and Joaquina Santos yesterday pleaded not guilty to the new bribery and other charges filed against them in federal court.
“Not guilty, your honor,” said Villagomez when U.S. District Court for the NMI chief judge Alex Munson asked how he pleads to the charges contained in the superseding indictment.
Villagomez was with Guam attorney Delia Lujan, daughter of Micronesia's popular defense attorney, David J. Lujan.
The Santos couple also pleaded not guilty to the same charges. Their attorneys-Ramon Quichocho and Victorino Torres-appeared at the hearing.
The superseding indictment charges the defendants with bribery concerning a program receiving federal funds, conspiracy to defraud and to commit offenses against the U.S., wire fraud, and theft concerning a program receiving federal funds.
Only the bribery charges were new as the remaining charges were the same ones already filed against the three defendants.
The three also waived their right to a speedy trial in order for them to have more time to study the new charges in preparation for their defense.
Munson granted the defendants' request and set the new trial for March 30, 2009, at 9am. It was the second time the defendants waived their right to a speedy trial.
Munson said the defendants shall remain at liberty with the same terms and conditions as the court had previously imposed.
Former Gov. Pedro Tenorio and his wife, Sophia, were among the relatives, family members and friends of Villagomez and the Santos couple who watched the proceedings.
After the hearing, attorney Lujan told Saipan Tribune it was just a superseding indictment and that Villagomez pleaded not guilty. “We have no further comment other than what we stated in the hearing,” he said.
Attorney Quichocho, counsel for Joaquina Santos, told Saipan Tribune that they're still reviewing the superseding indictment.
“So we just deal with it as we approach the trial,” Quichocho said.
The new charge alleges that Villagomez accepted a $15,000 bribe from the Santos couple for approving the purchase of Rydlyme, a cleaning and de-scaling chemical, for the Commonwealth Utilities Corp.
The Santos couple were also charged with bribery for allegedly offering the $15,000 to Villagomez.
According to the indictment, on Dec. 7, 2007, James Santos signed a check in the amount of $15,000 drawn upon an account belonging to himself and Joaquina Santos, and made payable to Villagomez.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric O'Malley said that on the same day, Villagomez deposited the check into his personal bank account.
A day before that, Dec. 6, 2007, Joaquina Santos allegedly deposited a CUC Operations Fund check in the amount of $50,000 into an account belonging to Blue Pacific as payment for Rydlyme.
O'Malley alleged that on Jan. 15, 2008, a co-conspirator, acting on behalf of CUC, authorized payment of $10,000 to Blue Pacific.
The prosecutor said that on Jan. 16, 2008, Joaquina Santos deposited another CUC Operations Fund check into an account belonging to Blue Pacific.
James Santos was the alleged owner and operator of a company called ISLAS, which supplied CUC with Rydlyme. ISLAS was then allegedly reconstituted under a different name, Blue Pacific.