Former senator denies involvement
A man awaiting sentencing for sex trafficking has implicated former Saipan senator and current Commonwealth Ports Authority board member Thomas “Kiyu” Villagomez as one of the alleged true organizers of prostitution conspiracy.
Defendant Wei Lin, through counsel Bruce Berline, filed a motion yesterday, requesting U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona to disqualify herself from his case as Villagomez is the judge’s brother.
As this developed, assistant U.S. attorney Garth R. Backe, counsel for the U.S. government, moved yesterday the District Court to file under seal all attachments to its reply to Lin’s memorandum in the case “for the reason that the attachments contain the names and personal identifying information of the victims in this matter.”
As of press time, Saipan Tribune was still trying to get comments from Villagomez.
Lin was accused of luring women from China to Saipan on false promises of jobs and then forcing them into prostitution once they got on the island.
In 2012, Lin was charged with three counts of sex trafficking and one count of financially benefitting from a sex trafficking venture. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to sex trafficking.
Lin was sentenced to 235 months in prison. He appealed.
In November 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the sentence and remanded the case to the U.S. District Court for the NMI for resentencing.
In Lin’s motion to disqualify, Berline said the exhibits attached to this motion indicate that Villagomez is identified by the complaining witnesses as the “big boss” in the alleged prostitution operation at the center of this case.
Berline said multiple witnesses identify Villagomez as the owner and operator of a commercial building and a karaoke nightclub where the complaining witnesses allegedly engaged in prostitution.
He said these additional witnesses place Villagomez at one or more gatherings of the complaining witnesses and a number of defendants, co-defendants, and unindicted co-conspirators.
“All of this occurred over an extended period of time and not as an incidental occurrence,” the lawyer said.
Berline said while Lin has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, his sentencing is pending and that a number of salient and material issues are still in dispute.
Importantly, Berline said, this includes Lin’s culpability and role in the offense.
He said the U.S. government has argued for an enhancement under the sentencing guidelines asserting that Lin is an organizer or leader of a criminal activity.
Berline said Lin disputes this claim and argues that other unindicted co-conspirators, including Villagomez, are the true organizers and leaders of any criminal prostitution conspiracy.
“Here, a reasonable person would conclude that Judge Manglona’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned when she is called upon to resolve this disputed issue involving her brother’s possible criminal liability,” he said.
Berline said the alleged conspiracy in this case involves several victims who were trafficked from China in order to engage in prostitution at karaoke nightclubs on Saipan.
He said one of these karaoke nightclubs was known as “Yelling” or “Yelin” karaoke and also as Karaoke Music Hall and was located in the MS Villagomez Building in Chalan Kanoa.
Berline said the MS Villagomez Building was owned and operated at that time by Villagomez.
The lawyer said all three of the alleged victims in this case identify Villagomez as the “big boss.”
Berline said Fen Nu Li was the manager or mamasan of Yelling Karaoke, also known as Karaoke Music Hall.
Berline said Li identifies her employer and boss as Villagomez, also known as Kiyu.
The lawyer said Li states that she received a salary from Villagomez in the amount of $400 per month and paid from a bank account belonging to MSV Real Property.
He said Li rented the Yelling Karaoke from Villagomez.
Berline said Villagomez obtained a business license, liquor license, and food license for the karaoke as well as handling tax preparation for the business.
Berline said Villagomez obtained immigration status for Miss Li .
Villagomez allegedly obtained a credit card terminal for use at the karaoke and the funds went into Villagomez’s bank account.
Villagomez would allegedly deduct expenses and rent and pay the balance to Li.
Villagomez also allegedly brought fruit and alcohol to the karaoke for resale to customers and sometimes took cash directly from the karaoke.
Berline said Ling Li, a waitress at Yeling Karaoke, disclosed an encounter with Villagomez where the latter offered to obtain immigration status for one or more of the women working at the karaoke club.
In order to curry favor with Villagomez, the women allegedly accompanied him to another karaoke called Golden Bell KTV where they served him alcohol.
Later, the women allegedly went with Villagomez to a strip club in Garapan.
After that, the group went back to Yelling Karaoke with all of the alleged victims in this case and other unindicted co-conspirators.
Berline said Villagomez was interviewed by an investigator for defendant Lin’s previous counsel at his office in the MS Villagomez Building.
Berline said Villagomez admits that he knew Lin and had been out with him for dinner.
Berline said Villagomez admitted going to the karaoke bar in his building to collect rent and sometimes to have a drink or drop off his preferred dark beer at least 10 times.
The lawyer said Villagomez did not deny obtaining the business license and a credit card machine for the karaoke.
Berline said Villagomez generally denied knowing any of the women involved in this case or of any prostitution activity at the karaoke in his building.
Berline concluded that Villagomez’s alleged involvement in and knowledge of the prostitution scheme at the center of this case, and Villagomez’s relationship with judge Manglona as brother and sister, “gives rise to the appearance of impartiality.”