THE Sandiganbayan First Division has convicted former Catanduanes governor Leandro B. Verceles Jr. and six of his co-accused of fraud against public treasury over alleged irregularities in the procurement of P3.25 million worth of liquid fertilizer in 2004.
Verceles, together with provincial treasurer Julieta Tasarra, Bids and Awards Committee members Rodolfo Maliñana, Abelardo Abundo Jr. and private defendants Deonilla Gregorio, Reginald Gregorio, and Redentor Antolin were originally charged with graft for causing injury to the province and for favoring supplier Feshan Philippines Inc.
The five-page decision was signed by Associate Justices Efren N. de la Cruz, Geraldine Faith A. Econg, and Edgardo M. Caldona.
Prosecutors said they conspired to defraud the province by awarding the supply contract to Feshan on a misrepresentation that it was an exclusive distributor. Investigators later found that Feshan was not even licensed by the government to sell fertilizer.
Initially, all the accused pleaded not guilty during their arraignment.
However, during a hearing on January 24, 2020, defense lawyers informed the court that the defendants were seriously considering entering into a plea bargain deal with the prosecution.
They offered to plead guilty to the lesser offense of fraud against public treasury and other similar offense in lieu of facing a full-blown corruption trial.
In a memorandum dated February 19, 2020, Ombudsman Samuel Martires approved the proposal of the accused but made a condition that they will solidarily pay the provincial government P3.25 million in civil liability.
At the pre-trial proceedings on September 18, 2020, the defendants withdrew their original plea and pleaded guilty to fraud against the public treasury.
They were each sentenced to pay fines amounting to P1,000 each without jail terms.
However, the court directed them to pay civil liability to the province of Catanduanes amounting to P3.25 million based on their plea bargain agreement with the Office of the Ombudsman.