Updated: Oct 8, 2019
By Johnnie Rosario
(Tumon, Guam) The governor will not answer whether she has ordered an internal investigation into the Department of Corrections since Federal Bureau of Investigation testimony in federal court revealed corrupt and illegal activity by Joey Terlaje. Until yesterday, Mr. Terlaje was second-in-command of the island’s prison system. He resigned amid the growing corruption scandal.
Mr. Terlaje, a former Guam Marshal, had authority over the prison’s command staff. The operations of the prison include the detention and incarceration of detainees and inmates remanded to DOC by both local and federal courts. The treatment of the prisoners, including where they are confined, the privileges they receive, their protection from danger, their access to the outside world, their visitation rights, their incoming toiletries and clothes, their ability to make phone calls, and their access to rehabilitative services all fell under Mr. Terlaje’s purview.
Federal prosecutors charged his close friend and former colleague in the Marshals service, Yona Mayor Jesse Blas, in District Court Monday on corruption charges related to drug trafficking. During Mr. Blas’s arraignment, FBI Special Agent Rafael Fernandez testified that Mr. Blas is accused of bribing high-ranking DOC officials to release inmates from prison.
Since the start of Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero’s administration, at least three people are known to have been released “accidentally” from prison. One of those instances happened on Monday, September 9 this year. Rodney Joe Cruz, who had been in DOC custody since February was released that night at 11:03 p.m. He was returned to the prison by marshals at around 10:40 a.m. the following day. Mr. Cruz is being detained in a case, where he is accused of choking and shaking a 15-year-old girl known to him, and punching her repeatedly. Mr. Cruz has a history of violence, public drunkenness, and outstanding warrants dating back nearly 20 years. In August 2016 he was convicted of terrorizing, use of a deadly weapon in the commission of a felony, unregistered firearms, possession of a firearm without an ID, and family violence.
Mr. Fernandez in his testimony told attorneys and the court that Mr. Blas bribed officials $15,000 each time one was willing to release an inmate or detainee.
Kandit late tonight asked DOC Major Antone Aguon via WhatsApp whether Mr. Cruz is accounted for and actually incarcerated at this time. Though Mr. Cruz is supposed to have been in DOC custody since February, he was able to post on his personal Facebook page a profile update time stamped 2:11 a.m. on May 11, 2019. A commenter on a story in the Guam Daily Post said of Mr. Cruz’s supposed incarceration, “I find that hard to believe when I seen him at a gathering.”
The suspicion of corruption that led to the illegal release of prison inmates and detainees, now fueled by FBI testimony of it, may be the tip of the iceberg on a larger issue corrupting the prison system. We may never know, if Ms. Leon Guerrero refuses to take a look at her appointee’s activities during his tenure as deputy director of corrections since January this year.
In the Fernandez testimony, Mr. Terlaje also is accused of having sex with women who have active warrants, and of witnessing and not reporting the assault of a woman by Mr. Blas at a sex party. Mr. Blas is accused of dragging the woman into his house, then confining her against her will for three days.
The information of such a federal investigation into Mr. Terlaje would have manifested in a thorough background check of Mr. Terlaje by the FBI prior to his appointment by Ms. Leon Guerrero. A thorough background check is required, according to Public Law 34-167, prior to the legislative confirmation of a governor’s appointee as Director of Corrections. Sen. Telena Nelson’s mandate lapsed into law without Governor Eddie Calvo’s signature on December 28 last year. Deputy director positions, however, do not require any such background check.
We asked governor’s director of communications Janela Carrera what background check, if any, was conducted prior to the appointment of Mr. Terlaje. We asked whether the Governor’s Office engaged the FBI in any such background investigation, and whether the governor was aware of any of the allegations against Mr. Terlaje.
She has not answered our questions yet.