Guam – Mateo Sardoma, Jr. was the “kingpin of dope on Guam,” who “created a vast empire in a short period of time by sidestepping” other drug dealers.
Those were the carefully chosen words used by Assistant US Attorney Fred Black in his opening statements today at Sardoma’s highly anticipated trial that could last for more than a month at the District Court of Guam.
Pointing out all three defendants with his index finger, Black accused Sardoma, Rudy P.H. Sablan, and Maria “Cristina” Edrosa, of leading this vast drug empire since about 2008 to February 2012, when they were finally caught by law enforcement officials. Tall and brawny, Black called Sablan the enforcer. As Sardoma’s common-law wife, Black then described Edrosa as a “mere puppy,” who worshipped Sardoma despite his lack of concern for her.
Because Sardoma couldn’t report stolen drugs or guns to police, he constructed his own security system and used Edrosa to purchase one legal firearm for him, Black adds.
The three are facing numerous drug and firearms charges, including continuing criminal enterprise, conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine or ice, use and possession of firearms by convicted felons and disposal of a firearm to a convicted felon. The case involves about 10 pounds of meth worth over $1.5 million, says Black, “from a guy who started from nothing,” and whose reported income was less than $16,000 per year.
“He put himself in a position like he was untouchable. That’s the very essence of a kingpin,” Black said in court, adding that he ran this drug empire like any kingpin would–he directed others in his group to strike deals with other drug dealers and everything was dealt in cash. Drugs and cash were smuggled in and out of Guam through the mail, hotel rooms and plane tickets all booked through others, while he stayed hidden in the background.
So how did Sardoma’s alleged empire fall apart? Black says Sardoma was “smart and greedy,” but he “made a lot of mistakes.” These mistakes, Black says, led to his demise and law enforcement agencies were paying close attention to Sardoma’s every action.
Many of these mistakes, Black notes, centered around Sardoma’s reported annual income of less than $16,000 to customs agents. How could a man who makes less than $16,000 a year afford $1,200 business class tickets and $400 a night hotel rooms? Further, how can a man who makes that much have nearly $7,000 in his pocket when going through customs?
Black says Sardoma would claim that the cash proceeds came from gambling winnings or that he worked for his “uncle’s” accounting firm. But Black notes that Sardoma’s uncle rejected Sardoma’s claims and called him “just a messenger boy.” Eventually and as Sardoma’s empire grew, he stopped working altogether and became a full time drug lord, Black says.
The beginning of the end happened when drug dealers that Sardoma side-stepped or had bad dealings with started getting busted, one by one, like a domino effect, leading to Sardoma’s paranoia. Worried that they would turn against him, Sardoma used cash to either bail some of them out or pay for their attorneys’ fees.
Sardoma, Sablan and Edrosa were indicted in February 2012 along with seven others. All seven–Christopher A.D. Mesa, Walter Duenas, Sylvia Mashburn Duenas, Eduardo Lake, Anthony Aro Villanueva, Joseph Caballero and Elizabeth F.L. Aguon–have made plea agreements with the federal government. All are expected to testify against the three remaining defendants. In addition to the seven named in the indictment, 13 others who have been busted in the drug trade and have also made plea deals with the government, are expected to testify against the three.
In his opening statements, however, defense attorney Louie Yanza, who represents Sablan, warned the 18-member jury to “look at their testimony with extreme caution.”
“The only people who will testify are the 20 convicted drug dealers,” Yanza points out, He notes that some of these convicted felons face life in prison if they don’t agree to testify against Sardoma and his co-conspirators.
Yanza does, however, allude to some guilt on the defendants’ part. “They are no angels, but they are not what Mr. Black describes them to be.”
Edrosa’s attorney, Jackie Terlaje, in her opening remarks denied Black’s allegations against Edrosa. Terlaje admits that her client was addicted to ice, but she was also a legal gun owner. She says the prosecution has no evidence that Edrosa gave her gun to Sardoma nor did she participated in his drug dealings.
The trial is expected to resume on Monday, June 17.