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Two major federal drug cases linked to public corruption; defendants cooperating against kingpins

By Jacob Nakamura

Two federal drug defendants in separate cases - Eric Aponik and John "Boom" Mantanona - are linked to a larger public corruption investigation and an effort by law enforcement to take down four people the federal government believes to be crime bosses on the island. This is according to recently-unsealed case filings and plea agreements in both cases.

The federal government only identifies the four alleged crime bosses by initials: A.W., M.C., F.F., and J.S. One set of those initials appears in both the case filings in the trial against convicted drug felon Julian Robles, and the plea agreement signed by federal drug defendant Cynthia Paulino. Two sets of those initials, plus Aponik's initials, appear in the Paulino plea agreement.

According to the now-unsealed case files in the Aponik case, Mr. Aponik has been cooperating since his arrest and the federal case filed against him in 2017. He pleaded guilty in February 2017 and agreed to cooperate with the federal government against an undisclosed number of drug and public corruption targets, according to several documents unsealed only this past August. He has spent the past three years as a field operative for federal law enforcement, identifying and setting up drug dealers and people in positions of power who have allowed drug trafficking to occur.

Mr. Aponik's cooperation began with his plea agreement, where he voluntarily began to provide information about his and other drug trafficking operations, including that of convicted drug boss Vincent Rios.

According federal documents in 2017, "Defendant admitted that beginning on or about January 1, 2013, and ending on or about January 26, 2017, there was an agreement between Defendant, Vincent R. Rios, a supplier in the state of California and other persons, known by the initials of A.W., M.C., F.F., and J.S., to distribute methamphetamine in the District of Guam. Defendant would receive amounts of methamphetamine ranging in quantity from gram amounts to pound amounts from Vincent R. Rios as well as a supplier in California and A.W., M.C., F.F., and J.S. Defendant would receive and distribute, approximately 100 grams of methamphetamine a week during this time frame. Defendant would then distribute the methamphetamine on Guam, receiving U.S. currency, vehicles, firearms, or other items of value in exchange for the drug."

On November 25, 2020, a Motion for Preliminary Order of Forfeiture (Real Property) filed by the U.S. government as to Eric M. Aponik was filed and lists the properties the government is seizing; it details his involvement in the drug trade and his cooperation. Additionally, a February 2020 document that was not previously made public because the case was sealed details additional cooperation in public corruption cases; specifically, the Boom Mantanona case.

Three years of taking down drug dealers

In motion after motion in federal court, the U.S. Attorney asked the court to move Mr. Aponik's sentencing date because of his cooperation against "multiple targets" of federal law enforcement. Each of the motions were sealed at the time, because the "investigation will be hindered and the safety of the Defendant will be endangered should his cooperation be made known to the public" at the time each of the motions were made.

By May 2017 - only three months after his plea agreement - the U.S. Attorney had informed the court Mr. Aponik's cooperation had already led to several drug dealers being arrested. "To date, several targets have been indicted," according to the federal prosecutor in a May 17, 2017 document.

On February 13, 2018, the U.S. Attorney told the court that just one day earlier, Aponik sold a high end luxury item in exchange for a future drug transaction. That transaction was a set up, and has been evidence of that crime against the unnamed target.

On August 27, 2018, the U.S. attorney told the court Aponik "has conducted three meetings since 4-27-2018 with known drug dealers." The federal prosecutor said Aponik engaged in conversations with, as well as, "conducted controlled purchases." Those conversations and controlled purchases have been evidence gathered by federal law enforcement against other targets of investigations.

On December 6, 2018, the U.S. Attorney informed the court Mr. Aponik's cooperation was so widespread, it had resulted in several ongoing drug investigations at that one time.

"[Aponik] has continued to identify other drug traffickers on the island of Guam as recently as November 15, 2018. Agents anticipate a possible controlled purchase of methamphetamine from newly identified targets in the future. Defendant also met with a target of investigation on or about November 20, 2018. This meeting resulted in the government obtaining evidence of the target participating in a conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine. More information is expected from the cooperating defendant. Public knowledge of the cooperating defendant would jeopardize their safety as well as multiple law enforcement operations at this time." - federal prosecutor Rosetta San Nicolas, December 6, 2018

It should be noted that in October of 2017, Ms. San Nicolas secretly convened a Grand Jury in the U.S. District Court of Hawaii. Records associated with the indictment against Boom Mantanona point to a massive police and public corruption investigation being led out of the Hawaii field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and linked to Ms. San Nicolas's Grand Jury in that state.

"Multiple law enforcement operations at this time." Several indicted

Mr. Aponik's cooperation against several targets of federal law enforcement did not end in December 2018.

"[Aponik] has continued to identify other drug traffickers on the island of Guam as recently as January 2019," according to a March 1, 2019 filing by the U.S. Attorney.

Then on May 21, 2019, the federal government informed the court they were about to drop the gauntlet on multiple targets allegedly involved in drug trafficking and public corruption thanks to Mr. Aponik's cooperation.

"The defendant is actively cooperating with the Government on an ongoing drug trafficking and a public corruption investigation that involves multiple targets," Ms. San Nicolas wrote in a motion to the court to move Mr. Aponik's sentencing date and seal the motion. "The Government intends to indict these multiple targets in the following months. The defendant will testify before the Grand Jury in a few weeks regarding this investigation."

Since that motion was filed at and sealed by the court, the federal government has indicted several people in cases fully sealed from public view, indicating the further cooperation of those unnamed defendants against even more targets of federal investigations into drug trafficking and public corruption.

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