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Blue House Lounge trial begins

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by Mindy Aguon

Guam - It's taken five years to get to this point, but the trial finally got underway this afternoon in the Blue House Lounge case. It's a tragic story involving several young impressionable girls from Chuuk who were lured to Guam thinking they were going to find a better life - but instead they were forced into a life of prostitution.

They were forced to have sex with men that came into a seedy Upper Tumon club and allegedly participating in the perpetuation of this illegal crime are two of Guam's men in blue.

Opening statements got underway in the case this afternoon as a jury of eight men and eight women have been tasked to review the evidence and testimony in a case against two seasoned police officers accused of abusing their authority.

Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Quan said, "To protect and serve - that's what police officers are supposed to do.  Well, ladies and gentlemen, the evidence will show in this case that's not what happened." Defense attorney Terry Timblin noted, "(Officer David Q. Manila) is on trial today mainly because he and (Office Anthony) Quenga were used as stage props by (club owner Song Ja) Cha."

"Most of all, you will not see any evidence that they benefited in any financial way," stated defense Attorney Sylvia Stake, also for the defense.  

What role, if any, did Officers Quenga and Manila have in a brothel that was run by Cha? According to Quan, the two were played a role in a conspiracy to hold Chuukese women against their will to perform sexual acts. Quan said, "The evidence will show these two defendants, police officers, victimized and exploited some of the weakest members of our society."

The government asserts that the two police officers, were the enforcing arm of Cha's threats to ensure her workers stayed at the Blue House Lounge and kept customer's happy for those who paid $40 for a can of beer and sexual acts. "Defendants would say, 'If you try to run away, you will be arrested,'" detailed Quan. "The evidence will show that defendant Manila told one of the victims, 'Look at my face - if you run away, I will find you and arrest you.'"

Manila and Quenga are also accused of using their authority as police officers to force the workers to perform sexual acts against their will.  It's also alleged that the two would frequent the establishment and drink while in uniform. Manila is also accused of sexually assaulting two of the workers while on duty. "She didn't want to go with him," said Quan. "(Manila) forced her clothes off, held down her legs, held her hands down and she was cussing at him while he was penetrating her.  Then he put on his uniform and left."

But defense attorneys Timblin and Stake contend their clients had no role in aiding or promoting prostitution. Timblin said, "They did not go around standing guard over these ladies. They have no financial interest in the Blue House - whether Cha made money or not, it was nothing to them because they had no benefit." Timblin added, "They had nothing to do with them becoming prostitutes. None of these ladies even knew that Mr, Manila or Mr. Quenga even existed when they started."

The defense contends the women who spoke to police in 2008 when the brothel came to light never made any mention of police involvement in the brothel or sexual assault.  Attorney Stake said it all boils down to allegations of rape in a whorehouse. She detailed, "She will tell you that she worked for Cha since 2004. And five years later, she's going to complain that working in that institution where she actually serviced some customers; that now she's going to cry foul."

The defense asked jurors to be critical of the testimony and return a not guilty verdict.  The government meanwhile began presenting its case in chief calling Maresa Manibusan to the stand.  She is the wife of a police officer, who was contacted by her cousin who sought assistance for her friend who worked at the Blue House Lounge and wanted to retrieve her passport from Cha.  It was that call that led police to respond to the establishment and unraveled the illegal brothel.

The trial resumes on Thursday before Superior Court Judge Anita Sukola. Song Ja Cha meanwhile will be tried separately.

Another police officer, Mario Laxmana, was indicted in the case but he has already signed a plea agreement to cooperate with the case. Also signing plea deals were two of Cha's former employees.

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