By Jacob Nakamura
On April 27, 2018, John "Boom" Mantanona - the dirty cop uncle to then-Lt. Gov. Ray Tenorio - walked into the Onward Golf Course in Talofofo to meet one of the island's biggest drug lords at the time. Eric Aponik was the leader of a drug trafficking organization for years before he got busted by the Feds on gun charges.
What Boom didn't know is that right before Aponik walked into that golf course meeting, federal law enforcement officers fastened and concealed a recording device on him with his consent. Aponik, unsealed court documents indicate, had been cooperating with the Feds for his benefit. The deal he struck with them, according to his plea agreement, was that he'd inform federal officers about any illegal activity he knew about and agree to set up criminals in exchange for less time in jail.
"I observed Mantanona... pull into the golf course parking lot and park in a stall near the front door of the clubhouse," Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Patrick Ernst wrote in an application for a tracking warrant made to then-U.S. District Court of Guam Magistrate Judge Joaquin Manibusan, Jr. The warrant, which was filed July 3, 2018, was only recently unsealed by the federal court.
Aponik is the second drug lord identified and described by Ernst in this warrant application, who employed Boom to keep drug trafficking operations under local law enforcement radar. Kandit, in Part 1 of this series, explained Boom's relationship with Audrey "Red" Wolford's drug trafficking organization, Boom's relationship with then-Lt. Gov. Ray Tenorio and his Mandana Drug Task Force, and the conspiracy to smuggle narcotics into the prison that was never publicly revealed.
The Aponik portion of Ernst's warrant application is a transcription of portions of their recorded conversation on that golf course on April 27 nearly three years ago. What Boom reveals to the judge in these portions is the main point he makes to Aponik: 'Hire me, because I know which law enforcement officials can be bought, and I'll keep you out of trouble.'
Rota's Johnny Wong, the "Rice Man"
The conversation Aponik traps Boom into is clear: 'How do I get my drugs into Guam?'
[NOTE: The person referred to as CI in the quote below is Eric Aponik. 'CI' stands for confidential informant.]
Mr Ernst told the judge:
"Based on my training, experience and discussions with other agents, the ... conversation is a drug discussion. CI asks 'What do you think is... What's the best way man... for the one I got back there?' CI is asking MANTANONA for the best way to transport drugs into Guam. CI advises he has a shipment that was supposed to come in this week and further advises he's concerned about a larger quantity of drugs that's packaged and ready to be shipped. MANTANONA asks if CI knows anybody in Rota and then states he will introduce CI to Johnny WONG, also known as 'Rice Man'. When MANTANONA states, 'He's the one that can cross you,' MANTANONA is telling CI that WONG can help CI transport his larger shipment of drugs onto Guam without being detected by law enforcement. MANTANONA says he will introduce CI to a Samoan who has a 'big boat' in Rota. MANTANONA advises CI to use WONG and this connection to bring his drugs to Guam by transiting through Rota. MANTANONA advises that Guam law enforcement does not have jurisdiction in Rota."
Renting the blind eye of law enforcement officers at the ports of entry
Their conversation moves on to other ways of bringing drugs into the island. 'What if I carry it on me at the airport,' Aponik suggests to Boom. Boom tells him that even with his Guam Customs and Quarantine Agency connections to get Aponik waved through the Guam Customs inspection at the baggage lobby, he had no way of seeing or controlling whether federal law enforcement officers would be waiting behind a wall to conduct a secondary inspection. FBI Special Agent Ernst makes it clear to the judge that Boom, for the right price, can rent the blind eye of law enforcement officers, not just in the Guam Police Department or Department of Corrections, but also at the island's ports of entry.
Boom sells highly-classified 'Snitch' info
In another portion of the same conversation, Boom risks the life of a confidential informant who allegedly helped to bring down Eric Aponik. Here's what Mr. Ernst told the judge:
"MANTANONA offer[ed] to tell CI the identity of the confidential informant (CI) who 'snitched' on CI. MANTANONA tells CI that the identity will cost CI 'money' and the information is the type of 'protection' that MANTANONA offers. [He] informs CI that Eric PANGELINAN was the 'snitch' who reported CI to law enforcement. MANTANONA tells CI that 'He burned your ass.'
Other portions of the recorded conversation reveal Boom Mantanona advising how Aponik can smuggle drugs through the U.S. Post Office, and advising Aponik not to go through th seaport, because it already is owned by an Agat-based drug trafficking organization. Boom named the suspected head of another Agat-based drug trafficking organization, and told Aponik the name of a man who had been arrested already, was that DTO's supply source.
This recorded conversation between Boom Mantanona and Eric Aponik was so valuable to the federal government's mounting concern of police corruption, it triggered the October 18, 2018 application by federal prosecutor Rosetta San Nicolas to convene a secret Grand Jury in the U.S. District Court of Honolulu. And that is where the real fun started.
In the meantime, it is important to consider another federal court document filed December 2, 2019, which Kandit previously reported. In it, Ms. San Nicolas advises Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood in the case United States v. Eric Aponik:
"Pursuant to the terms of the Defendant's plea agreement, the defendant is actively cooperating with the Government on an ongoing drug trafficking and a public corruption investigation that involves multiple targets."
Ms. San Nicolas further stated to the court:
"The defendant will be a material witness in the trial of United States v. John T. Mantanona."
That trial was supposed to start in March 2020. It never happened. The trial date for Boom Mantanona was wiped from the court record, and instead on August 4, Ms. San Nicolas informed the court that the U.S. Attorneys Office was ready for the sentencing of Eric Aponik.
In Part 3 of this series, we will tell you why this information is important, and we will bring you more on the federal investigation that has sprung from the Hawaii wiretaps, and information on why the other drug trafficking organizations of the island have need to worry. The federal government - by all accounts of the rapid unsealing of so many court files sealed for years - is closing in.