Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Paul Suba's Blue House probe still a mystery

Weeks after the Guam Blog filed a request with police for information about an internal investigation regarding the Blue House case, the department has yet to respond to the request. The request concerns an investigation called for by former Police Chief Paul Suba regarding alleged inappropriate police involvement in a Tamuning brothel. The investigation was ordered by Paul Suba in 2008, according to Guam Blog files, and was "in response to information received about Blue House victims/witnesses who alleged a Mario, Tony and another officer frequented the Blue House." But the result of Suba's investigation, which could shed light on whether the department knew of any officer's involvement in the brothel, remains a mystery. A series of reports by the Guam Blog last year prompted the government to launch a special investigation into Blue House, resulting in the indictment of three police officers. During the course of that special investigation, the fact that Suba had ordered a similar investigation years earlier was made public. But it still is unclear if Suba's investigation ever was completed or what it found. If the police department investigated the allegations against officers internally in 2008, the agency was required by local law to release a report on the findings on the department website. There are no findings on the website for that investigation. On April 25, the Pacific Daily News filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the department, asking for documents related to Suba's call for an investigation. The request asked for all documents related to the investigation, including the original complaint and testimonies as well as any conclusions made and what action, if any, was taken against anybody found to have been involved with the brothel. But two weeks after Chief Fred Bordallo acknowledged his receipt of the request, the newspaper hasn't received a response approving or denying it. Under Guam's Sunshine Law, government agencies are required to release public documents within four working days of the request. In some circumstances, though, that time limit can be extended up to 10 days, including weekends and holidays. As of yesterday, however, the PDN hadn't received a request to extend the time limit. Suba's request for an internal investigation wasn't acknowledged publicly until last November, when Bordallo released a preliminary disposition, noting Suba's prior order for an investigation. The Blue House lounge was a brothel that operated in Tamuning between 2004 and 2008. The brothel lured women from the Federated States of Micronesia with the promise of high-paying waitress jobs, After they arrived, however, brothel owner Song Ja Cha would confiscate their passports and force them into prostitution, according to the federal court case against her. She was found guilty of sex trafficking in federal court and sentenced to life in prison. She faces similar charges in local court, but has appealed to the island's Supreme Court, arguing she cannot be tried twice for the same crime. Two officers arrested in the Blue House case, Anthony Quenga and David Manila, are facing trial with Cha on prostitution and criminal sexual conduct charges. Officer Mario Laxamana entered a plea agreement earlier this year with prosecutors. He agreed to plead guilty to felonious restraint in exchange for his testimony at trial.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Brothel owner asked to testify against police

Nine women were forced into prostitution at the Blue House lounge
Government prosecutors have tried to get the Blue House brothel owner to cooperate with an ongoing investigation into police officers, but the convicted sex trafficker turned the deal down.

Because Song Ja Cha declined to assist investigators, the brothel owner is headed toward a second trial later this year. Also, the Office of the Attorney General is now prosecuting three police officer suspects without the help of Cha -- a potentially valuable witness.

Last September, prosecutors discussed two separate plea deals with Cha's attorneys, according to letters from the AG's office, which were reviewed by the Pacific Daily News.

The letters were sent months before any police officers were indicted in the case. Three officers -- David Manila, Mario Laxmana and Anthony Quenga -- were indicted in November.

The first letter offered Cha a plea to felonious restraint, with a sentencing range of zero to three years. Soon after, the AG's office sent another letter, stating that attorneys would discuss another offer with a one-year concurrent sentence.

Both of these sentences are shorter than the amount of time Cha has spent in jail while awaiting trial, so either deal would have made her local case disappear with no additional prison time.
Both offers required Cha to cooperate with government investigators, said defense attorney F. Randall Cunliffe.

Cha, 71, is already serving life in prison after being convicted in federal court, but the brothel owner has never admitted to any wrongdoing. Cha insisted she was innocent through her trial and sentencing, and she is also appealing her conviction to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
However, Cha also is charged with a long list of crimes in local court, where she is facing a second trial in the next few months.

The local trial also includes the police officer suspects -- Officers David Manila, Mario Laxamana and Anthony Quenga. These officers were never charged in federal court despite the fact that federal prosecutors were aware of the allegations against the officers.

In local court, all three officers have been charged with multiple counts of kidnapping, felonious restraint and prostitution crimes, and Quenga and Manila have been accused of rape.
If Cha had agreed to cooperate with investigators, it is very possible she would have information to provide against all three officers.

In an affidavit from January 2008 -- shortly after police raided the brothel -- Cha alleged that Laxamana was a customer at the Blue House lounge.

"Officer Laxamana had made acquaintance with one of my employees named Saknin Weria, aka, Jackie," Cha wrote in the affidavit. Weria worked as a supervisor at Blue House. She has signed a plea deal agreeing to testify in the upcoming trial.

Laxmana was present on the night police raided the Blue House, according to federal court documents. In her affidavit, Cha said Officer Laxamana followed her and made sarcastic remarks during the raid.
"He kept making sarcastic remarks about the incident and the whereabouts of a police officer, named Tony Quenga, who he believed was my good friend. Officer Laxamana said to me, 'Where is your friend Tony? Why is he not here to help you?'"

Finally, in a prior trial, Manila has testified that he knew Cha, who was friends with his ex-wife.

AG's office: No offer

Despite the September letters from prosecutors -- both of which discuss potential plea deals with Cha -- the AG's office has said it hasn't made any offers to Cha.

AG's spokeswoman Carlina Charfauros said Thursday that her office hasn't offered any plea deals to the Blue House owner.

The Blue House lounge was a Tamuning brothel that masqueraded as a karaoke bar from 2004 to 2008. The three officers were indicted after a series of Guam Blog stories prompted the police department to reopen the Blue House investigation. Blue House victims levied allegations against police officers in 2008, but no officers were arrested for more than four years.

Several motions to dismiss are pending in the case. A hearing is set for Jan. 14 to determine when oral arguments will be held.