Past slaps on the wrist will not deter drug smuggling into the island's prison

SWAT ESCORT: Then-Department of Corrections Lt. Jeffrey Limo, front, is escorted by a SWAT team from the Guam Police Department Hagåtña Precinct Command on Aug. 24, 2017. Post file photo

When we posted the story on Monday that a search of bags at the beginning of a work shift for Mangilao prison guards led to the discovery of methamphetamine, marijuana and drug paraphernalia, according to court documents, readers' reactions were anything but a surprise.

Rather, the reaction was along the lines of: "Again?" 

In this latest alleged contraband bust, two Department of Corrections officers were arrested. One has been charged. An Internal Affairs investigation is underway and the two officers were placed on leave.

The DOC officer of only eight months, Mike Alex Muna Gumataotao, 28, has been charged with official misconduct and other charges related to the alleged attempt to bring methamphetamine, marijuana and drug paraphernalia into the prison.

The other officer, Christopher M. Santos, who has been accused, according to DOC, of trying to bring in tobacco contraband, has also been arrested but was later released. Santos has been on the DOC payroll for five years, so he was on the job when at least six of his colleagues were arrested, jailed, stripped of the privilege of government of Guam employment and ultimately pleaded guilty to various degrees of participation in a prison drug smuggling conspiracy involving at least two inmates who supposedly ran the show.

They are presumed innocent until proven guilty, of course, but as the court case against one of the officers alleges, there was methamphetamine, syringes and weed in a bottle of grooming product that allegedly was in officer Gumataotao's bag.

The public isn't shocked that drug smuggling into the prison has happened again and that – allegedly – at least one of the two officers was allegedly involved.

The lack of shock as far as the public is concerned stems, in part, from the major drug smuggling case that ensnared several DOC officers in 2017, who were in cahoots with drug dealers behind bars.

One would expect that the higher-level DOC officers involved in the 2017 DOC drug smuggling would get severely punished.

But that wasn't the case. Most cut plea deals and that led to zero to minimal prison sentences.

Former DOC Lt. Jeffrey Limo and former DOC officers Frankie Rosalin and Gerry Hocog all got suspended prison sentences, which means they didn't spend time behind prison bars after they were sentenced. Each one of them pleaded guilty to official misconduct as a misdemeanor.

Former DOC officer Edward Crisostomo was spared time in prison, too, after he pleaded guilty to receiving bribes as a third-degree felony and possession of a Schedule II controlled substance.

Former DOC officer Jerome Taimanglo San Nicolas was sentenced to prison for six months.

The sixth of the DOC officers awaiting a sentence in the 2017 case, Fermin Maratita, has had sentencing delays because of the pandemic.

The prosecution, in justifying the plea deals and weak punishments, has previously stated it had built cases against the "most culpable" defendants – inmates Shawn Paul Johnson and Bruno Simmons.

Johnson got an eight-year sentence. Simmons was sentenced to three years in prison. Both were maximum-security inmates at the time of the contraband investigation.

But Simmons, a convicted drug offender, was eventually set free – only to be thrown back into prison in July for bailing on his rehab.

And yet the key DOC players who were involved simply got slaps on the wrist. Two of them even attempted to get their GovGuam jobs back via the Civil Service Commission process.

If there's any question why we continue to hear about drug and other contraband smuggling attempts at DOC, it's because the punishment has not been forceful enough of a message. 

The message has been, if you get caught, you cut a deal, offer remorse, shed some tears, mention your suffering family, promise you'll turn your life around and, before you know it, you're in for just a misdemeanor and you walk out of the courtroom – free – after sentencing.

And based on past deals, you're probably going to get the treatment afforded to Limo, Rosalin, Hocog and Crisostomo.

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