by Nick Delgado
Guam - Three police officers are being held behind bars after spending the weekend in jail on criminal charges they weren't even aware of. A sealed indictment was handed down by a superior court grand jury late Friday night resulting in the officers' arrest and the revelation that the three allegedly participated in and promoted prostitution at the former Blue House Lounge more than four years ago.
"All persons responsible for any wrong doing will be brought to justice," promised Lieutenant Governor Ray Tenorio.
The three cops who allegedly frequented the former Blue House Lounge in Upper Tumon are accused of engaging in and promoting prostitution for two years. Officers Anthony Quenga, Mario Laxamana and David Q. Manila were named in a 28-page superseding indictment against Blue House owner Song Ja Cha and former worker Freda Eseun. The women were scheduled to begin trial this Wednesday in the Superior Courtof Guam.
The indictment, which was made public today, lists 19 different criminal charges ranging from conspiracy to compel prostitution, conspiracy to commit felonious restraint, solicitation to promote prostitution and kidnapping to charges of 1st and 2nd degree criminal sexual conduct, criminal intimidation, and official misconduct. The officers' alleged criminal activity occurred between January 2006 and January 13, 2008, when the brothel was uncovered because one of the Chuukese workers sought help to get back her passport that Cha had withheld.
Cha was convicted in federal court of paying to bring the women to Guam, where they were forced to work at the Blue House and engage in prostitution while being held against their will. Cha, Eseun and the officers are accused of preventing 17 girls from leaving the establishment and having them engage in sexual acts.
Attorney General Leonardo Rapadas told KUAM News, "The charges stem from a period between 2006 and 2008 where defendant Cha operated a brothel at Blue House with young women lured to Guam from Chuuk with promises of legitimate employment, only to be forced into prostitution through intimidation, assault and other threats that included police officers to prevent these victims from fleeing."
According to the indictment, Officer Manila is accused of sexually assaulting two of the workers while Officer Quenga allegedly tried to force one of the girls to perform sexual acts on him while threatening to arrest her if she did not comply. Manila testified during Cha's federal trial and admitted to buying a drink and then having sex with a worker in a VIP room. He was disciplined but was allowed to remain on the force.
Police Chief Fred Bordallo commented on the arrests, saying, "This indictment shows and demonstrates that police officers even though members of the police department, law enforcement officers, that are not above the law can be held accountable for their actions and Guam can feel comfortable and have confidence that justice will take its course." Rapadas added, "Even if a few bad apples were involved in the Blue House conspiracy, it was GPD who rescued the victims in 2008, and it continues to be GPD and the FBI backing us up in this investigation and the prosecution."
The officers spent the weekend behind bars at the Hagatna Detention Facility and didn't know what charges they were facing until they were brought before the court for a return of warrant hearing this morning. The three were picked up by Superior Court Marshals late Friday night.
Officers Manila and Quenga are being held on $250,000 cash bail, while Officer Laxamana is being held on $100,000 cash bail. Their defense attorneys attempted to have the charges thrown out today.
Attorney William Pole represents Officer Manila and argued that the statute of limitations has already expired to charge his client, saying, "Normally a felony is three years. There are exceptions, but I don't believe those exceptions apply but more importantly they violated their right to be brought before a magistrate within 48 hours and that's what we're going to deal with at this point."
Representing Officer Quenga, Attorney Tom Fisher said, "It's appalling - absolutely appalling. They kept all three of those gentlemen in jail for more than 48 hours haven't told them what they were charged with. We just found out." He additionally stated, "It's clear that the government has charged him with offenses that are well outside the statute of limitations, so we'll be going in tomorrow to get this case dismissed."
Assistant Attorney General Nelson Werner told the court the office tried to bring the officers before a judge on Saturday, but was unsuccessful. In the meantime, a further proceedings hearing is scheduled for tomorrow morning at 9am before Judge Anita Sukola.
U.S. Attorney Alicia Limtiaco (who coincidentally was the attorney general at the time the prostitution at the Blue House was uncovered) confirms that a federal review of the police officers' alleged actions at the blue house are still under review. Officials meanwhile could not comment if more arrests are pending as there are still matters that are under investigation.
As for the defense's claims that the statute of limitations has expired, the attorney general says they take the opposite position. As for whether they think the defendants can receive a fair trial on Guam, considering the high-profile nature of this case and the significant media coverage, Rapadas says that is a question left for the courts to decide.