Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Some Comments on Saipan News--swine flu, Tim Villagomez, the court's retirement debt

Swine Flu:
One death in Guam and 2 confirmed cases in Saipan. Like everywhere else in the US, swine flu makes headline news. Since I've been in Ohio this summer for vacation, visiting family, I've been hearing about swine flu here, too. Ohio also had its first death from swine flu this month.

Swine flu is a pandemic. More than half of the deaths have been in the U.S. It is NOT the most virulent form of flu the world has seen, but it is the current strain and it's causing plenty of harm. Symptoms being talked about here in Ohio are fever, sore throat, vomiting and diarrhea. Best to take precautions.

What's scary in Saipan, though, is how small the population is, how close contact may be unavoidable, and especially how weak our health system is, despite the protestations of CHC and the health department that everything is fine.

Tim Villagomez:
His lawyers are begging for leniency. His family and friends are flooding the court with letters begging for mercy. The newspapers publish only snippets of the requests, but some of them show that the community is also part of the problem.

The comment that gets first place imho in the "you're clueless" category goes to Diego Benevente for this:

“Villagomez has been and remains a respectful and modest public servant in spite of the predicament he found himself in.”

Excuse me? Respectful? He's hired the most virulent attorney he could who has acted as Tim's mouthpiece, bad-mouthing the judge, the jurors and even the court marshalls. Humble? He's kept his mouth shut. Is that humility? Or actions thatspeak of arrogance. And predicament? He didn't find himself in a predicament. He committed a crime. He is to blame for his own action. It's about personal responsibility.

I still haven't seen Tim Villagomez own up to his own responsibility in this matter. Yes, he quit his job as lieutenant governor. But that was not until after he was convicted of federal crimes. And there was no concurrent statement accepting responsibility for committing the crimes; he could just as easily have resigned because of political reasons.

I'm guessing he can't say a lot, because he's probably following the advice of counsel to remain silent. But that's a far cry from finding himself in a predicament. (Ah, yes--so true. See Wendy's blog post on the sentencing issues and follow her link to his lawyer's filed pleading.)

Another comment winner for passing the buck goes to his wife, Margaret Keene Villagomez, who, as his wife, is understandably blinded by loyalty and love. But really, think before you write something like this:
“One of the biggest mistakes that he has ever made, in my opinion, was that he entered the uncertain world of politics where some of the people that he helped would one day be the cause of his demise.”

This just shows it's all about getting caught, in the thoughts of his family. Never mind that there was evidence that he scammed the public through fraudulent rydlime sales to CUC before he went into politics... And those people he helped! How dare they cause him trouble. (Surely she doesn't mean his sister and brother-in-law; it's the snitch who testified against him and those people in the public auditors office and who else?)

I'm not sure what the Bishop hoped to convey with his comment.
“They have strived to live up to the Christian ideals of living out the Gospel message in their day-to-day living. They recognize their mistakes and they are keen on making conscious efforts to correct them. Overall, I see the goodness in their hearts despite their shortcomings.”

I don't remember the Gospel saying anything good about cheating people by enriching your own pockets with a scam, under cover of high status and public power.

And then there are the heartfelt pleas for the sake of the children. I do feel for the children, who are innocent in this matter; who no doubt love their father; who no doubt need their father in their lives. But what are we teaching those children with comments like this?

“Please give them leniency on sentencing day. Please don’t take our families apart. It’s all in your hands.”

“I don’t know how any parent could find the strength to explain to their young children the logic of why their daddy will not be with them much longer, or that soon he may not be coming home at all."

Both of these comments (one from a nephew, one from the wife) again show that denial of the reason why Tim Villagomez is facing jail time. It is not the JUDGE breaking up the family.

And what you tell your children is that daddy is a human being who made a big mistake and now must pay for it.

I understand loyalty and wanting someone you love to be given a second chance; be shown mercy. I think Kay Delafield's comments, as reported in the newspaper, help protray that best.

According to the Tribune, "She said Villagomez has no past record of bad acts and he has young children, a wife, a mother and a family who need him in their lives." Okay. Facts. This is an effective plea; simple, direct, not too emotional.

And Sasamoto's comment:
“He has lost credibility in the public eye and I believe that he is truly despondent regarding what he has put his family through.”

Okay, fact and opinion stated as an opinion. Effective.

But the sentencing guidelines don't give a lot of room for leeway. Lots of people convicted of crimes have mothers, wives and children. The judge can't seriously even consider that when sentencing someone convicted of crimes. (Well, perhaps he can if he finds exceptional circumstances...but really, not being there to support your kids is pretty much a given for any parent facing jail time; not being there to care for an aging parent is also foreseeable. Are these exceptional circumstances?) What can be said is that fortunately the Villagomez family is close-knit, well off, and politically connected, so that these innocent and vulnerable family members will get some help.

It's also wrong to equate Tim's reported despondency with remorse. Many people get despondent when they are caught. Remorse is more about owning up to having done something wrong.

And still the kids are saying in their letters that they haven't a clue what their father, uncle, relative did wrong. There's been no acknowledgement by him that he made some serious mistakes and committed crimes. There's been no real sign of remorse.

And so the family continues to hold out for his innocence. One of the kids just doesn't believe that any of these three (Tim, Joaquina and James Santos) would do this to their families--and that hurt must be what fuels the denial.

But let's be honest, Tim did some serious harm, despite the denials of his family. Damage to the public fisc. Damage to the public/government climate in the CNMI. Corruption is a damage that sows seeds and blooms larger and larger in future generations. Damage to the CUC, and its provision of an essential public service.

What is most mind-boggling is how this man, from a "good" family, with brains, education, a sense of humor, lots of respect and love, could stoop so low as to rip off the CNMI government and the people of the CNMI for his own and his family's economic gain--and a basically puny economic gain at that (not a Madoff-scale crime).

Because the actions where Tim and the others committed these crimes do not jive with the portrait of the people as presented in the letters. The letters show strong family, good education, community involvement, church attendance, and love. So obviously, something is missing from the letters.

There are some glimpses behind the facades--the pride (mentioned by some, while others detail humility), the power (for example, Tim's wife's letter shows his personal power, people coming to him to help with their CUC problems--when there should have been systemic solutions, regulations, help in place for people with health issues and such), the laxity about following the rules (one of the kids mentions how punishments were for a week of being grounded but then everything was okay the next day, etc.), and the opportunity must have been there--a government coffer ripe for the picking.

So Judge Munson will have to find a sentence that fits the crime--one that punishes this man for the wrongs he committed; one that deters this man and others from committing similar wrongs; one that protects the public from this man doing more harm; and one that provides the public with a sense of retribution.

I think Rob Torres' comment sums up the "support:"

Villagomez's counsel, Robert Torres, said his client is no different than other offenders in public corruption cases who have denied their gifts and talents in pursuit of brazen, if not blind, ambition.

“But Tim remains to me someone whom I care for and whom I support unequivocably and without hesitation. I stake my name and reputation as an officer of this court in writing this letter,” he said.

Tim screwed up but we love him anyway.
Okay. Now let's get back to logical considerations for sentencing. Punishment, deterrance, protection (incapacity), and retribution.

Judiciary debt to the Retirement Fund:
This one is good: the CNMI judiciary owes a heck of a lot of money to the NMIRF.

Let's order them to go get second jobs to pay this off, okay? Sic Mike White on them? Threaten them with jail for non-payment?

That's what they do every day to poor debtors without the education and opportunities they all have!

Oh, they want the public to pay from the general fund? That was part of the deal. Okay. They want to work this out. No problem.

Well, there is a problem as there is no easy solution. Oh-oh.

Really, I hope they consider how unreasonable debt happens to the best of us the next time a poor person can't pay in an ordinary debt collection case.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

well said, Jane!