By Johnnie Rosario
The federal government, in a number of court document filings, has identified several drug trafficking organizations over the past few years. The FBI and the U.S. Attorney are taking them down, one by one, and using the heads of each one to turn on the next.
The Feds are going up the ladder, so to speak, and while it still is unclear who the target or targets of their massive investigation, agents have revealed in federal court that the FBI emphasis is public and police corruption.
And while the main targets of what appears to be a federal RICO case likely are public officials, leaders of Guam's drug trafficking organizations who have not yet been arrested still have reason to worry for their freedom. The Feds are no where near done bringing everyone in; and they have unsealed court documents identifying more and more of the suspected heads of these so-called local drug cartels.
North to south, in a sweeping case of drug traffickers suspected of dealing with dirty cops to either evade capture, or to take down the competition, Kandit has pieced together a puzzle of federal court documents since 2016. The picture isn't fully in sight yet; and that's because the case hasn't ended yet.
It started, when Eric Aponik and his wife, Verlyn, were raided and taken in by the Feds on gun charges. Mr. Aponik, who ran one of the major DTOs, began cooperating against Vincent "Ben" Rios and Audrey "Red" Wolford.
The information Aponik provided led to warrants for information into Rios and Wolford's DTOs. That information led to more warrants, including the phone records of people associated with the Rios and Wolford cartels. By 2016, Rios was raided and arrested, and Wolford's phone records and home were raided.
At one of the raids, federal officers found Wolford's ledgers, and notes on who was paying so-called protection fees to dirty cops to avoid detection by the Mandana Drug Task Force.
That led to even more warrants, and the discovery of several conversations between Ms. Wolford and retired dirty cop John "Boom" Mantanona. The messages confirmed Wolford was paying Boom to keep her safe from law enforcement. Boom's messages to Wolford also indicated a consulting role he was assigned by then-Lt. Gov. Ray Tenorio and the Mandana team. Mr. Tenorio is closely related to Mr. Mantanona, his uncle.
Messages in May 2017 show the two conspiring to smuggle drugs into the local prison. Boom told Wolford he was with the "Team" as the two conspired via messaging on an appropriate time to bring drugs into the jail. The FBI agent who provided this information in a tracking warrant application to the federal magistrate judge said it was his belief the "Team" Boom referred to was a team of specialized law enforcement officers. Since the federal government had already been investigating Boom, the only "Team" left was the Mandana force, which Boom's uncle Ray Tenorio created and used as a political hit squad.
The conspiracy occurred three months prior to the Mandana raid into the prison for the smuggling of drugs. The smuggling operation that was taken down was not Wolford's, but that of her competitor, the late Luis Hocog, who ran a northern drug cartel.
By this time, other federal court documents - which were sealed at the time - indicated Wolford's dealings with the heads of other drug cartels, and their lieutenants. The U.S. Attorney, at that time, was careful not to fully name the heads, but to identify them only by their initials.
The phone records between Boom and Wolford led to a sting operation in April 2018, where Aponik wore a wire and recorded a conversation with Boom at the Onward Golf Resort in Talofofo. The conversation was damning for Boom; he disclosed to Aponik his ability to purchase the loyalty of law enforcement officers in different local public safety agencies, including the island's ports of entry.
That conversation triggered a secret request by federal prosecutor Rosetta San Nicolas in October 2018 to conduct a clandestine public and police corruption case out of the U.S. District Court of Honolulu. The purpose of the Honolulu operation was for the U.S. Attorney's Office on Guam, and the FBI Field Office in Honolulu to conduct their public corruption investigation away from Guam to protect secrecy. From there, hundreds of recordings from a series of federal wire taps commenced.
As federal investigators listened to Mr. Mantanona's conversations from October 2018 forward, they came across activity unrelated to the corruption case: Boom's tampering of the jury pool in the Martinez-Moser case. He, along with two others, were arrested on jury tampering charges. Mr. Mantanona fought the charges for at least a year; during that time it became evident the U.S. Attorney was investigating him for far more than jury tampering. On June 19, 2019, Boom was indicted for conspiracy to distribute a large amount of meth.
His attorney, Jay Arriola, on January 7, 2020, made a motion for an "Order compelling the United States to disclose the identity(ies) of certain informant(s) who assisted the Government in securing Warrants under Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 as amended, and otherwise related to this matter, and for other discovery."
Excerpts from the Arriola motion:
"The discovery reveals that the certain information used to investigate, secure warrants against, and charge Mantanona was gained by way of Government confidential sources of information. The discovery received does not provide the identity of these sources of information directly."
"This investigation was supported by an undisclosed number of confidential informants who were both witnesses to, and at times participants in the alleged illegal conduct."
"Several warrants were secured by law enforcement to search information related to Mantanona’s alleged phone, phone numbers of individuals whom he allegedly had contact with, and the alleged movements of his vehicle."
Federal court records in these and other cases, including unsealed warrants, show a web of drug trafficking organizations under federal watch in the post-Rios, Wolford, Aponik, and Hocog underworld of Guam. The record shows that most of those drug dealers plead out, but not before cooperating with the Feds to receive leniency in their sentencing. But it was the information Boom could provide to the federal government that mattered most. He is heard in the federal wire taps and in other recorded conversations speaking plainly about his knowledge of and relationships with the heads of drug cartels in Agat, Yigo, Dededo, and even in the CNMI. He openly discusses police corruption at several levels.
The wire taps and recorded conversations alone might not have constituted enough evidence to take down the DTOs and the dirty cops. But in the middle of last year, Boom's then-impending federal trial suddenly was vacated, and continuance motions began coming in every three months.
The once-powerful cop, with tentacles throughout law enforcement in the local and federal government, began to cooperate in the Rosetta San Nicolas investigation.
As the months have carried on, federal law enforcement have revealed more information, including the public testimony of FBI Special Agent Rafael Fernandez in the Jesse Blas trial that implicates former Marshal Joey Terlaje in public corruption. Over the past two months, the U.S. Attorneys Office either has requested or has not challenged the unsealing of federal court documents that name drug traffickers and describe their activities in detail. Most of their operations can be connected to each other via various warrants over the past several years that reveal phone records and conversations and many of these DTO operations have been linked to dirty cops through this massive investigation.
In the end, the irony may be that major drug dealers will go down, not because of their drug dealing activities, but because they trusted dirty cops to protect them.
If there's one thing the FBI hates, it's a dirty cop.