Inquiry into alleged missing money, drug proceeds - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Inquiry into alleged missing money, drug proceeds

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by Mindy Aguon

Guam - There are new developments to report in the big story about the federal government's efforts to have more than $130,000 forfeited from a local criminal case.  There are now questions about missing money and why drug proceeds were allowed to be used as payment for a lawyer.

An investigation is underway to determine whether money that was surrendered by Kenrick Gajo was stolen between the time it was in police custody as evidence the time and it was deposited at the Department of Administration.  According to an affidavit filed by FBI Special Agent Frank Runles, $147,567 was counted by four police officers and that number was indicated on the evidence custody receipt. 

Court documents indicate that Officer Frank M. Santos turned the money over to John Taitano at the GPD Property Control Unit and that Taitano carried the money to DOA and presented it for deposit.  DOA documents, however, show that only $137,667 was deposited.  A few days later, Special Agent Runles noted that it appeared that a recount was conducted and an additional $20 bill was found in the monies presented by Officer Santos for deposit.

GPD Spokesperson John Edwards confirms there's an internal affairs investigation, telling KUAM News, "Right now an IA investigation has been launched on figuring out whether or not the money was miscounted or whether there was money actually taken from it...once the investigation is done the chief will be briefed on it."

Police intended to execute a search warrant at Gajo & Sons Auto Body Shop in January after they had two informants buy crystal meth from him.  "As far as the $147,000 and what happened after they took the money, I have absolutely no knowledge. I see that there is some discrepancy. I can understand some concern about that," said Attorney Curtis Van De Veld.

Gajo retained Van De Veld and agreed to cooperate with authorities.  That same night Gajo entered into a plea agreement crafted by Assistant Attorney General Phil Tydingco and his lawyer. The deal that was brokered essentially allowed Gajo to keep his personal property and only be charged with possession of a controlled substance.  In exchange for his cooperation to give up drug sources and cohorts as well as information he clamed he had about a 1998 murder of a woman who was found dead near Route 15, the Attorney General's Office agreed to give him immunity and no jail time.

Van De Veld says also part of the deal was that, "his attorney's fees would be paid out of money that was intended to be searched for and seized that night."

When Gajo turned the money, that he admitted was from the proceeds of drug sales and trafficking over to police, court documents indicate that Officer Santos was instructed to give Van De Veld $30,000 - in $20 denominations.  "Was it something that was outside the norm. Yeah, it required thinking outside the box and sometimes that's what you have to do to protect your clients," the lawyer stated.  "I believe that it was extremely beneficial to my client. People keep saying it's unusual. I don't mind doing the unusual thing as long as it protects the interest of my clients. So if people think I do unusual things in the interest to protect my clients, then I'm guilty as charged."

The attorney was paid with drug money on the spot, instead of the cash being turned into evidence.  It's something GPD hadn't heard of before and something they're looking into as well, as Edwards confirmed, "Money should be considered as evidence any time when you're at a scene. Anything that is taken would be considered evidence."

Coincidentally, Van De Veld is no longer representing Gajo.  Asked if he kept the $30,000, the attorney said, "I was paid for services I provided, and I believe that the money is properly paid to me."

KUAM News spoke with Tydingco today seeking comment on the payment and the money that police took into evidence, but he said he would not be able to comment on an ongoing investigation.

GPD and the AG's Office has not provided any details on whether Gajo has cooperated by providing details about a 1998 homicide.  KUAM archives show the only murder that matched the one Gajo claimed he had information about was the death of 34-year-old Florence Dimla Schaller.  She was found badly burnt inside a vehicle that was set on fire in a quiet neighborhood in Mangilao in November 1998.

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