Halfway into his first term in office, Jesse Mendiola Blas found himself finishing out the year behind bars at the Department of Corrections.
The mayor of Yona was indicted in September on extortion and bribery charges following a nearly yearlong federal investigation.
Blas is accused of using his position as a public official to receive and extort bribes in exchange for allowing or offering cluster mailboxes under the control of his public office to be used to import methamphetamine to Guam, according to court documents filed in the District Court of Guam.
On Sept. 24, the FBI seized computer hard drives from his office the same day he was escorted into federal court to be arraigned.
He declined to comment while agents from the FBI, U.S. Postal Service and Homeland Security Investigations brought him into the courthouse in handcuffs.
Blas pleaded not guilty to the charges of extortion under color of official right, Travel Act bribery and notice of forfeiture.
"He abused a position of public trust," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Sambataro during Blas' initial court appearance. "He was working with drug traffickers. He used his official position to proliferate drug trafficking."
Blas' defense attorney Joseph Razzano fought to have him released while he awaits trial.
"I don't see any allegations of drug trafficking," Razzano said. "It's a nonviolent offense."
But, testimony from prosecution witness FBI agent Rafael Fernandez was enough for the court to determine that Blas is a danger to the community.
Fernandez received information from a female detainee about the alleged operation involving the mayor and the cluster mailboxes used to traffic drugs.
"He controlled the keys to those boxes," Fernandez said.
Fernandez said the detainee, who also was a cooperating defendant, had a "personal romantic relationship" with the mayor.
She alleged the mayor assaulted her and on one occasion punched her hard in the face, dragged her into a residence and held her hostage for at least three days.
The detainee was later publicly identified as Vickilyn Teregeyo. She now lives in Saipan. Teregeyo has two drug cases from 2016 in the Superior Court of Guam. Blas at one point served as her third-party custodian, while she was released from detention. Blas impregnated her and she gave birth to their baby.
During a second bail hearing for Blas, the federal government played a phone recording from Teregeyo's phone of the couple arguing over an incident at a barbecue.
“Even though we fought, and slapped you and choked you and threw you around ... sh*t happens. I still went out to the court for you and said I didn’t want you locked up,” Blas said in the recording. “I am connected to that courthouse and I can make sh*t happen. They were pushing to get that warrant out, and it had nothing to do with Joey Terlaje. You gambled like that. I promise you, I will not lose. I don’t flex my muscles. … The minute you get into the car, you become so f*cking rude. And you say you love me?”
Others in law enforcement implicated
The FBI also testified that Teregeyo told investigators that there were several groups involved in alleged dealings with the mayor, including certain marshals at the Judiciary of Guam, and former Department of Corrections Deputy Director Joey Terlaje. Terlaje has not been charged but has since resigned from the prison.
"Guam marshals were engaging with females with active warrants," Fernandez said. "(The mayor) participated in those sexual activities."
Another former girlfriend of the mayor, Lovelia Mendoza, had been sentenced to eight years in federal prison for drug dealing but recently returned to the island to answer the new charges filed against her in another drug-related indictment in the District Court of Guam.
The Judiciary also told senators during a Justice Committee oversight hearing in November that it has been in talks with federal investigators.
"So we did do an internal investigation, we did meet with the FBI and we are not aware of any investigation regarding any allegation against any of our marshals," said John Lizama, administrator of the courts.
Blas also allegedly used his connections to get inmates out of prison.
Razzano wants the court to exclude the FBI testimony that alleges tampering with the Superior Court of Guam probation system, as well as testimony involving Joey Terlaje and other court marshals or probation officers. He says that evidence is irrelevant to the case against Blas.
Undercover source: Brenda
FBI agent Fernandez also testified about an undercover source, whom the FBI had engaged in the alleged drug operation with the mayor.
Blas allegedly threatened the source to pay upward of $15,000 or he would close her mailbox. The source was also confronted by a Guam police officer at her home who told her not to lie to the mayor or she would be in trouble.
The source was named in court documents in November as Brenda Kinian.
She pleaded guilty in the District Court of Guam on Oct. 9, 2018, to charges of extortion by wrongful use of threatened force, violence or fear; and aiding and abetting extortion under the pretense of office and employment.
According to court documents, Kinian was part of a scam involving a store in Agat that had been robbed in April 2017. Kinian told the victims that the FBI was protecting them from further crimes and threats of violence. She demanded and collected $450,000 from the victims in exchange for their protection between May 2017 to May 2018.
She has relocated off island and is under federal protection.
Blas' attorney had told the court that Blas doesn’t pose a threat to witnesses in the case, including Kinian. He also alleged Kinian is a known liar.
In October, Blas was denied a second request to be released from prison.
His trial date is set for Feb. 4, 2020.
Blas, a former police officer who later became a deputy marshal with the Judiciary of Guam, was an administrative assistant in the Yona Mayor’s office from 2011 through 2016, working with the mayor at the time, who is now Sen. Jose "Pedo" Terlaje. He is the father of former DOC Deputy Director Joey Terlaje, whom Teregeyo implicated in Blas’ alleged misdeeds.
No immediate replacement
After the mayor’s arrest, the village was forced to fend for itself. Without a vice mayor, the office's administrative functions received help from the Mayors’ Council of Guam.
Blas took leave and continued to receive the biweekly paychecks of his $75,000-per-year, $36-per-hour salary.
Assistant Attorney General Andrew Quenga wrote to the mayors’ council that a mayor can be replaced if that position becomes vacant or if the mayor is recalled.
Quenga said detention in a criminal case is not expressly identified as an event creating a vacancy.
"We were kind of disappointed with the AG because they couldn't give us a definitive answer," said mayors’ council Executive Director Angel Sablan. “They said it has to be done by the courts or election commission.”
Under certain circumstances, the Municipal Planning Council may fill a vacant mayoral seat – subject to the approval of the Legislature. But Blas never appointed members to the Yona MPC.
During a Guam Election Commission meeting in November, the commission approved a petition by Francisco Hiton to begin collecting signatures toward an effort to remove Blas from office.
The mayors’ council has sent sample resignation letters to Blas to review.
Sablan has recommended that Blas resign.
If Blas signs the letter, it will be published to the people of Yona, a vacancy will be declared, and the GEC will move on an election to replace him.