IN SEX TRAFFICKING CASE
To avoid the perception of impartiality, U.S. District Court for the NMI designated Judge David O. Carter has granted the motion of a defendant in a sex trafficking case to vacate District Court Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona’s order that denied the defendant’s second motion to withdraw his guilty plea.
Carter said Wei Lin does not assert any facts that suggest the conflict influenced Manglona’s orders denying the motions to withdraw the guilty plea.
However, Carter said, in order to avoid any appearance of impropriety and in accordance with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Liljeberg case, to avoid the risk of undermining public confidence in the judicial process, the court vacates the April 14, 2017 order denying Lin’s second motion to withdraw his guilty plea.
In the Liljeberg case, the U.S. high court ruled that “any justice, judge, or magistrate of the United States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”
Carter set a re-hearing on the motion to withdraw for Jan. 29, 2019, at 8:30am. Sentencing, if necessary, will be held on Jan. 29, 2019, at 1pm.
Lin, through counsel Bruce Berline, had asked Carter to conduct a re-hearing on his motion to withdraw.
Last July, Manglona granted Lin’s motion to recuse herself from his sex trafficking case as he implicated the judge’s brother, former Saipan senator and current Commonwealth Ports Authority board member Thomas “Kiyu” Villagomez, as one of the alleged organizers of a prostitution conspiracy. Carter was then assigned the case.
In Lin’s motion to vacate, Berline said that Manglona twice denied the defendant’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea.
Berline said the issue here is an important one—the possible withdrawal of Lin’s guilty plea based on a gross mischaracterization of his likely sentence by his former attorneys.
In her order last July granting Lin’s motion for disqualification, Manglona said she takes seriously any issues that would impugn the court’s integrity.
The judge said that, had this new information been presented by Lin with the other documents at an earlier time, she would have recused herself even in the absence of a motion.
The new information Manglona was referring to is when Lin openly moved for her disqualification and for the first time, he included a 2013 private investigator’s report of an interview taken of 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 April 2012, Lin was charged with three counts of sex trafficking and one count of financially benefitting from a sex trafficking venture. The sex trafficking occurred between July 2010 and November 2010 at the Rosen Music Studio karaoke bar.
On June 8, 2012, Lin pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit sex trafficking.
In March 2015, Manglona sentenced Lin to 235 months of imprisonment. Lin, through Berline, appealed his sentence to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
In November 2016, the Ninth Circuit reversed the sentence and remanded the case to the District Court for resentencing. The resentencing has been reset several times.
Lin, through Berline, filed a motion last July, requesting Manglona to disqualify herself from the case as Thomas Villagomez is the judge’s brother. Manglona granted Lin’s motion.
In Lin’s motion to vacate the order, Berline said the defendant accepted the plea deal based upon his reliance of his then-counsel’s advice that the base offense level would be 14, and thus, with likely enhancements, the sentencing guidelines would be around 37 to 70 months.
Manglona’s determination, the lawyer said, resulted in Lin filing a motion to withdraw his guilty plea on April 16, 2013.
Berline said that, on April 14, 2017, Manglona denied the motion from the bench for essentially the same reasons contained in the previous order denying Lin’s previous motion to withdraw his guilty plea.