Fifty-eight-year-old Jesse Mendiola Blas was emotional in the courtroom in the moments leading up to a federal judge deciding his fate and how long he would have to stay in prison for extortion.
“I have brought much shame and dishonor upon myself and my family,” said Blas. “As a mayor, I have broken the trust of the community I once served. I am scarred for life. If I could only turn back time, I would change the things that caused me to be where I am today.”
The former Yona mayor was sentenced before District Court of Guam Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood on Thursday to 37 months in a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility with credit for time served.
He pleaded guilty to a single count of extortion under color of official right for taking bribes in exchange for the use of cluster mailboxes under the jurisdiction of the mayor's office. The mailboxes were allegedly used for drug distribution.
During sentencing, he said he has spent 470 days at the Department of Corrections.
“Days and nights go by feeling afraid and confused and trying to understand what is happening to me. I am truly sorry for what I have done. My behavior was irresponsible and I should have known better,” he said, as he promised the court never to commit another crime again. “Respectfully, I just won't because doing so would put me right back in prison. I have lost so much.”
A judicial recommendation was made to have Blas serve his time at a prison facility in either Hawaii or California. It was said in court that Blas plans to relocate to Kauai when he gets out. He will then be placed on three years of supervised release.
However, the former mayor admitted that his age, multiple health issues and now his federal conviction will make it difficult for him to move on with his life.
“I feel that my punishment has already started,” he said. “This has been a painful, life-changing experience. My wrongdoing is a very serious mistake that I had made. This crime made its way to me by temptation ... in truth, I just wanted some money. It’s no justification for my actions. I am not perfect nor will I ever be. I have made a serious mistake. Here I am, jailed, living and surrounded by fear. I had to learn how to be a prisoner and follow prisoner rules just for my safety.”
Blas made a final plea asking the judge for leniency.
“This by far has been the worst experience of my life. It has also been the biggest lesson for me. It is very painful to have lost so much so quickly. I regret everything that I have done. Please forgive me. What’s left for me is my family and they mean the world to me. I hope to reunite with them sometime soon,” he said. “Your honor, I know that my words are plenty but they are true. My mistakes do not define me nor does it determine my worth. It is a reminder of how I am doing and what I need to do to make it right again. I ask for a chance that I may begin my life all over again. I have accepted my responsibility and still holding onto hope.”
Multiple family members and friends also submitted letters to the court asking for leniency.
Blas withdrew his objection on Thursday after he had initially contested the sentencing recommendation that resulted in days of testimony given virtually by the government’s confidential source, Brenda Kinian.
Kinian, who was part of a separate scam involving a store in Agat that had been robbed in 2017, testified to several audio and video recordings that captured the interactions between her and Blas.
“Kinian is probably one of the best informants I’ve ever seen. She was very believable. She was very credible and she was able to get you to write things down, which is very incriminating. Not many snitches are able to facilitate that when going undercover like she did,” said Tydingco-Gatewood.
“Mr. Blas has spent his life in public service as a police officer, a marshal and as a mayor. This island deserves better from their public officials than what Mr. Blas did here,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Sambataro. “The damage that can be done by someone who has that level of access and power is illustrated by this case.”
Tydingco-Gatewood said she was shocked and disappointed to see Blas in trouble with the law.
“You are now a fallen public servant,” Tydingco-Gatewood said. “I don’t know what went on in your mind, but you are here today. You appear to be very remorseful.”
Blas was arrested in September 2019 after he was indicted on federal charges of extortion and bribery. He was denied multiple attempts to get out of prison ahead of taking the government’s plea deal.
Blas, who was first elected as Yona Mayor in 2016, resigned in January 2020, and a special election was held to fill the vacancy.