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GPD Officer in Blue House case receives 30 years in prison

Anthony Quenga

Former police officer Anthony Quenga wipes tears from his eyes after listening to testimony from his sister during his sentencing hearing in court on April 18. Superior Court of Guam Judge Anita Sukola handed down a sentence of 30 years to Quenga in the Blue House brothel case.

Anthony Quenga, the second former Guam police officer convicted in the Blue House case, was sentenced this morning to 30 years in prison for rape, kidnapping and promoting prostitution.

During the hearing, friends and family of Quenga testified on the former officer’s behalf asking Superior Court Judge Anita Sukola to consider the former officer’s history as a police officer and relationship with his family.

Former Guam Police Chief Paul Suba also testified on Quenga’s behalf, calling the man “exemplary on almost all occasions.”

Quenga, when given an opportunity to speak, maintained his innocence, saying the 519 days he’s been in jail have “felt like I’ve been in a bad dream.”

“Your honor,” he told the judge, “I know I was convicted. I still stand my ground that I am innocent.”

Quenga closed his statement, telling the court that “they’ve got the wrong Tony.”

Quenga received the maximum sentence for nearly all of the crimes of which he had been convicted, receiving sentences ranging from one to 30 years.

His longest sentence was for a conviction of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and attempted first-degree criminal sexual conduct, for which Quenga received 30 years.

He will be able to serve all his sentences concurrently.

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Evidence withheld in Blue House case

Not everyone: Guam Police officers surround the Blue House Lounge, which was operating as a brothel, while other officers execute a search warrant inside on Jan. 14, 2008. Three police officers are in the middle of a trial for allegedly helping the brothel owner keep unwilling girls in check. One of the defending attorneys is arguing that not all police officers who visited the brothel are being prosecuted. Pacific Daily News file photo

Prosecutors allegedly stopped law enforcement witnesses from testifying about more police officers who were linked to the Blue House brothel or accused of misconduct, according to a defense attorney in the case.

Attorney William Pole, who represents police officer suspect David Manila, argues in a new motion that government prosecutors withheld evidence from the grand jury in the prostitution case.

A grand jury decides if charges against a suspect are worth pursing. Based on the evidence provided to the grand jury, the Office of the Attorney General indicted three police officers for alleged ties to the Tamuning brothel. However, Pole argues that prosecutors have received allegations against numerous other officers, which don’t appear to have been investigated, and weren’t presented to the grand jury.

“The Office of the Attorney General stopped the reporting officers from mentioning the other officers in their reports,” Pole argues in his motion, which seeks to dismiss the case. “(Police Officer Tracey) Volta was stopped from mentioning officers by the Office of the Attorney General. The Office of the Attorney General again stopped (FBI Agent Jason) Dodd from telling the grand jury about other officers accused of misconduct.”

Grand jury proceedings are closed to the public and transcripts of these proceedings are confidential, so there is no public document that can confirm or contest the allegations in Pole’s motion.

The Office of the Attorney General has not yet responded to the motion, which was filed yesterday afternoon. Carlina Charfauros, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Attorney General, said prosecutors would respond to the motion through arguments in the courthouse.

Manila is one of three police officers indicted in the Blue House case in late November. The other two are Mario Laxamana and Anthony Quenga, and all three officers are accused of assisting the Blue House brothel, which was open from 2004 to 2008. Quenga and Manila also were charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct, which can carry a life sentence.

The motion filed yesterday isn’t the first to argue that prosecutors have received more allegations against more officers.

Earlier this month, Pole filed another motion — this time trying to dismiss for “prosecutorial vindictiveness” — which said that discovery documents provided by prosecutors contain allegations against more officers.

Only attorneys in the case can access these discovery documents. Pole argued that these confidential documents include allegations that at least three more officers are connected to Blue House, and that another eight officers committed “misconduct or criminal activity.” None of these officers were identified.

Pole previously has said he doesn’t endorse any of the allegations in the discovery documents. The goal of his motions is to show that prosecutors haven’t treated all accused officers the same, and that prosecutors withheld information from the grand jury.

Many motions

A flurry of defense motions were filed in the Blue House case in the hours before a deadline yesterday, and arguments are expected during a court hearing the day before Christmas.

During a Superior Court of Guam hearing yesterday morning, Assistant Attorney General Nelson Werner said he expected several motions to be filed in the afternoon. Yesterday was the last day to file pre-trial motions in the case.

“And I believe they will all overlap in some way,” Werner said in court. “Someone is going to argue statute of limitations. Someone is going to argue double jeopardy.”

Werner was right on both counts. At least four motions to dismiss were filed — including arguments about both statute of limitations and duplicity — and those join at least five more motions that are waiting for arguments. All of these are expected to be tackled on Dec. 24.

One motion, filed on behalf of brothel owner Song Ja Cha, argues there is no reason to prosecute a woman who is already going to die in prison. Cha is serving life in prison after being convicted in a federal Blue House trial.

“Defendant Cha is currently 70 years old, and continued prosecution does not seem to be in the best interest of the territory,” argued attorney F. Randall Cunliffe.

Look Who’s Weeping

David Manila, Anthony Quenga and Mario Laxamana of Guam Police Department

Judge Anita Sukola yesterday denied requests to modify bail for the three Guam police officers charged in the Blue House case.

The Superior Court of Guam judge cited a potential risk to the community and the officers’ alleged victims as reasons for disallowing the officers to be released on personal bonds.

Bail for Officers David Manila, Mario Laxamana and Anthony Quenga currently is set at $250,000, $100,000 and $250,000, respectively.

Attorneys for the officers initially filed their motions for bail changes earlier this week following the announcement of charges in the Blue House case.

The officers are charged with 14 crimes, including promoting prostitution, compelling prostitution and conspiracy to commit kidnapping.

Two officers, David Manila and Anthony Quenga, also are charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct and attempted first-degree criminal sexual conduct, respectively. The Blue House karaoke lounge actually was a brothel, where women — mostly immigrants from Chuuk state in the Federated States of Micronesia — were forced into prostitution. It was closed in 2008.

At a hearing for the officers on Wednesday, attorneys argued the officers weren’t a flight risk or a risk to the community. They argued that, as a result, assigning such a high bail only served punitive purposes and was intended to keep the officers behind bars.

However, the prosecutors for the case argued that, while the officers might not pose a flight risk, letting them out on a personal bond could put the alleged victims at risk.

FBI task force

To prove that point, prosecutors put an officer assigned to an FBI task force on the stand to testify about his encounters with the alleged victims.

Officer Tracey Volta testified that the women he had spoken to were afraid of the police as recently as last month.

Yesterday, Sukola announced that she wouldn’t be modifying bail for the officers.

“The court notes the defendant is a veteran police officer and has significant familial ties to Guam,” Sukola said to Manila. “However . . . the court is extremely concerned that the safety of the community is at risk.”

She denied Manila’s bail change request and then proceeded to deny the other two defendants’ requests.

During the hearing, attorney Peter Perez, who represents Laxamana, noted his client’s intention to post bail.

It’s uncertain if Quenga and Manila also plan to post bail.

Cha’s hearing

Yesterday also was the scheduled arraignment for Blue House owner Song Ja Cha.

She was expected to enter a plea for her involvement with the Blue House, however that hearing was postponed as the court was unable to acquire a Korean translator for Cha. Cha already is serving life in federal prison for sex trafficking.

This is the second time her arraignment has been postponed in the Superior Court.

A third hearing for Cha is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Monday.

Statute of limitations

At that time, Sukola will hear arguments for the dismissal of all charges against the officers in the Blue House case.

Attorneys for the defendants already have filed motions — and the prosecution their response — with the Superior Court alleging the officers were held beyond a timely manner and that the statute of limitations already has expired on the charges against the officers.

The officers were arrested last weekend on warrants following their indictment in the Blue House case.

Their arrests are part of an ongoing investigation being coordinated by the Guam Police Department and the Office of the Attorney General to determine if any officers were inappropriately involved with the brothel.

Blue House employee signs agreement

A Blue House employee who was a key witness in a federal trial has signed a testimony agreement in local court, and could now become an important witness in a new trial that includes police officers.

Saknin Weria testified in the federal trial that women at the Blue House lounge were required to have sex in private rooms, and that these same women feared the police officers who visited the brothel at least twice a week.

“When they see the police walk in, they jump up off of their seat and run into the kitchen to hide,” Weria said in 2011, while testifying at the District Court of Guam.

Now testimony like this could be heard in the local court.

The Superior Court of Guam case covers many of the same allegations as the District Court trial held in 2011, but the local case also includes allegations against three police officers, who allegedly assisted the brothel.

Yesterday, during a Blue House hearing in the Superior Court, Weria pleaded guilty to seven counts of felonious restraint as a third-degree felony.

As part of her plea agreement, Weria is required to testify in the upcoming trial of her five co-defendants. Those co-defendants are: Blue House owner Song Ja Cha, supervisor Freda Eseun and police Officers David Manila, Anthony Quenga and Mario Laxamana. As a reward for her testimony, prosecutors will ask for Weria’s sentence to be suspended.

Weria’s attorney, Peter Sablan, said the testimony agreement requires his client to testify against Cha, but doesn’t require her to help with the prosecution of the other suspects.

However, as of today, all the suspects are scheduled to go to trial together. Jury selection begins Jan. 2.

No one knows what exactly Weria will say when she testifies in the upcoming trial, but her testimony from the similar trial in federal court is a matter of public record.

During the federal trial, Weria explained that she worked as a translator for Cha, who couldn’t speak Chuukese, the language of most of the Blue House victims. As a reward for translating, Weria was treated slightly better than the other girls, but still was required to have sex with customers.

Weria described how Cha would take the passports from the Blue House employees, then demand the employees work off debts to earn the passports back. If the women didn’t do as they were told, Cha threatened to have police arrest them, Weria testified during the federal trial.

Weria also testified that Cha would hit some of the women who worked at Blue House, or withhold food from her employees if customers complained about them.

When one of the Blue House workers became pregnant, Cha told the women at the brothel to help her “get rid” of the unborn child, Weria testified. The pregnant worker ultimately was taken to an abortion clinic, but first Cha had the women try more brutal methods, Weria testified.

“(Cha) asked us to try to help her get rid of the baby (by) drinking Pine-Sol, Clorox, soy sauce,” Weria said during the trial in federal court. “Just jump on her stomach. Do anything …”

Look Who’s Talking

Guam Police Department officers, seated in orange from left, Mario Laxamana, David Manila and Anthony Quenga stare at former brothel owner, Song Ja Cha, left, prior to the court proceeding in connection with the Blue House case at the Superior Court of Guam during the Blue House trial last month.

Confidential documents in the Blue House case have revealed that more police officers allegedly had sex at the Tamuning brothel, according to defense motions filed in the Superior Court of Guam.

Somewhere within more than 1,000 pages of discovery documents are allegations that at least three more officers are connected to Blue House, and that another eight officers committed “misconduct or criminal activity,” wrote defense attorney William Pole.

Pole represents Officer David Manila, a suspect in the Blue House case, and his newest motions seek to get his client out of jail and dismiss the case for “prosecutorial vindictiveness.”

Pole argues that prosecutors have received allegations against many police officers in the Blue House case, but have chosen to prosecute only a few.

“The most troubling evidence against the government is that there are other officers accused of misconduct by the same alleged victims that have accused Officer Manila,” Pole states in one of his motions. “There is no evidence that these officers have been charged or interviewed. … The government has provided, in its own discovery, a list of officers who are accused of having sexual relations, taking favors or otherwise cannot account for why they spent time at Blue House.”

Although the defense motions are part of the public court record, the discovery documents that they reference are confidential. Discovery documents are potential evidence that is only available to attorneys in the case. None of the officers who face allegations in the discovery documents have been identified in any public document.

During an interview with the Guam Blog yesterday, Pole said he didn’t intend to endorse any of the allegations in the discovery documents. The goal of his motion was to show that prosecutors haven’t treated all accused officers the same, he said.

“If I were to accuse 10 people, and I now charge three people, then I would need to explain why I didn’t go and investigate the other seven,” Pole said.

The Office of the Attorney General hasn’t responded to either of Pole’s motions. AG spokeswoman Carlina Charfauros declined to comment on the motions, saying that prosecutors plan to allow their response documents to “speak for themselves.”

Manila is one of three police officers indicted in the Blue House case in late November.

The other two are Mario Laxamana and Anthony Quenga, and all three officers are accused of assisting the Blue House brothel, which was open from 2004 to 2008. Quenga and Manila also were charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct, which can carry a life sentence.

Manila previously admitted to at least some involvement with the brothel.

In 2011, during a federal trial of brothel owner Song Ja Cha, Manila admitted in federal court that he once had sex with a Blue House employee after paying for a ladies drink. The officer also testified that he once “advised” an employee that she couldn’t leave the lounge until she had paid off her debts to Cha.

During that same trial, Freda Eseun, a supervisor at Blue House, testified that officers named “Mario” and “Tony” frequented the brothel. Regardless, no police officers were fired, arrested or prosecuted for ties to the Blue House after the federal trial.

The three officers who currently face charges were arrested after a series of articles by the Guam Blog, which prompted the Guam Police Department to reopen the case.

In his motion to dismiss, attorney Pole argues that the prosecutors buckled to political pressure and public outcry. If the government had a legitimate reason to prosecute Manila, it should have happened years ago, Pole argued in the motion.

“The government must give an explanation on why it took so long to charge defendant Manila. The Office of the Attorney General knew about the federal investigation, the government knew about any alleged allegations against David Manila in 2008 and the government chose to file only after a media storm erupted,” Pole wrote.

The motion to dismiss for prosecutorial vindictiveness isn’t the only motion that seeks to end the Blue House case before trial.

Several other motions are pending before Judge Sukola, and the judge yesterday denied two other dismissal motions, which argued statute of limitations and failure to appear before a judge within 48 hours.

The Blue House case is set for jury selection on Jan. 2.  Follow the stories on Guam Blog.

Defendants plead not guilty: Defense may call more officers as witnesses

Former Blue House brothel owner Song Ja Cha is escorted to her seat at the Superior Court of Guam past co-defendants, Guam Police Officers Mario Laxamana, seated left, David Manila, seated wearing orange, and Anthony Quenga, obscured, on Nov. 26. Pacific Daily News file photo

Many Guam police officers could be called as witnesses in the Blue House trial, and a defense attorney said yesterday that the involvement of those officers will prompt new motions in the controversial case later this week.

William Pole, who represents Blue House suspect Officer David Manila, said yesterday that he plans to subpoena the “numerous officers” who are named in discovery documents in the brothel case.

Those subpoenas most likely will lead to the officers becoming witnesses in the trial, which is set for January, Pole said. He wouldn’t discuss what role the officers played in the case.

“I can’t comment on that,” Pole said. “All I can say is that I will be filing additional motions based upon the involvement of these officers; … I will be filing new motions on Friday.

The Blue House case focuses on a brothel that operated in Tamuning between 2004 and 2008.

The case recently expanded to include the indictment of three police officers who allegedly assisted the brothel. The police department is investigating whether anyone attempted to cover up the allegations against the officers.

During a Superior Court of Guam hearing yesterday, four suspects in the case — brothel supervisor Freda Eseun and officers Manila, Mario Laxamana and Anthony Quenga — pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Brothel owner Song Ja Cha also was scheduled to enter a plea of not guilty, but her hearing was delayed due to problems with her Korean translator. Cha intends to plead not guilty, said defense attorney Jeff Moots.

The five suspects face a total of 26 charges and more than 60 counts, including charges related to criminal sexual conduct, kidnapping, prostitution and official misconduct.

A sixth suspect, Saknin Weria, another Blue House supervisor, is negotiating a plea agreement, said her attorney, public defender Peter Sablan. Weria is set to return to court Monday to finalize her plea deal.

It was during that court hearing yesterday that Pole first mentioned his plan to subpoena numerous officers.

Pole asked that prosecutors turn over badge numbers of all the officers named in the discovery documents so he can prepare subpoenas. Assistant Attorney General Nelson Werner tried to object — arguing that the defense attorneys already had the officers’ names — but the judge intervened.

“Get it for them,” Judge Anita Sukola told the prosecutor.

The Blue House court hearing also included two bench conferences, which are private conversations held between attorneys and the judge. Defense attorneys Peter Perez and Leevin Camacho — who represent Laxamana and Quenga, respectively — each called for a bench conference.

After the hearing, Camacho said the second conference was about which attorney would represent Quenga if the case went to trial in January.

Cha, Eseun and Weria were first indicted in 2008 for their alleged crimes at the Blue House lounge, and all three suspects already have been convicted in a parallel case in federal court. Cha already is serving life in prison.

However, the case in local court is the only one in which police officers were indicted.

The officers were arrested after the police department reopened an internal investigation into allegations that officers frequented the brothel and helped Cha control her victims.

The police department reopened the investigation after a series of articles in the Guam Blog provided more information about alleged police involvement at Blue House.

Translator problems

Although Cha was prepared to enter a not-guilty plea yesterday, her hearing was delayed after attorneys discovered that her translator was not explaining the court proceedings to her appropriately.

Werner said he was concerned about translator errors because Cha already is appealing her federal conviction using a similar argument.

In that case, Cha argued that her federal court translator intentionally misled her during trial, then stole money from her bank accounts while she was incarcerated.

Cha’s appeal is filed with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California.

7 new charges added: Officers face kidnapping allegations

Kidnapping charges were added against three police officer suspects — and a second officer was accused of rape — after another indictment was filed in the Blue House case.

Prosecutors presented their case to a grand jury in secret on Friday, and the second superseding indictment was circulated to attorneys in the case during a Superior Court of Guam hearing yesterday.

The indictment adds seven new charges, including some with as many as a dozen counts.

The most significant additions are nine counts of kidnapping filed against police officers David Manila, Anthony Quenga and Mario Laxamana, and charges of first- and second-degree criminal sexual conduct, which are allegations of rape and molestation. A rape conviction carries a possible sentence of life in prison.

Also, during the Superior Court hearing yesterday, attorneys in the case gave dueling arguments over motions to dismiss the charges against the three officers.

Defense attorneys have argued the government had a three-year window to prosecute the officers for their alleged crimes, but Assistant Attorney Nelson Werner said this window remains open as long as the suspects are still officers.

Werner pointed to a section of Guam law that affects government employees. The section states that, if the alleged crime is “based upon misconduct in office,” the statute of limitations doesn’t expire as long as the employee still has the same job.

“They are police officers,” Werner said. “They were arrested at a time when they were still police officers. The events occurred while they were still police officers. They were indicted at a time while they were still police officers. The statute hasn’t passed.”

Judge Anita Sukola has not yet made a decision on any of the motions to dismiss.

As of today, all five suspects in the Blue House case are set to go to trial during the first week in January, Sukola said. The judge said the new indictment adds a “wrinkle” to the already complex case, but jury selection is still scheduled for Jan. 2.

The Blue House lounge was a brothel disguised as a karaoke lounge that operated in Tamuning from 2004 to 2008. Federal prosecutors proved that at least nine women were forced into prostitution at Blue House, but the case has since expanded in local court.

After the Guam Blog published a series of stories on the Blue House case earlier this year, the Guam Police Department re-opened an investigation into allegations that officers were involved in the brothel, culminating in the arrest of the three officers about a week ago.

The case also includes brothel owner Song Ja Cha, who is serving life in federal prison but who also faces charges in local court, and brothel supervisor Freda Eseun, who was a key witness in the federal trial.

All told, the five Blue House suspects face more than 60 counts of 26 separate charges, according to the new indictment.

However, if any motions to dismiss prevail, all of those charges could be dropped.

Motions to dismiss

The motions to dismiss filed in the Blue House case focus on two arguments — that the government took too long to indict the officers for their alleged crimes, and that the officers were brought to court too slowly after their arrest.

On the first motion, defense attorneys yesterday argued the statute of limitations on all of these crimes is only three years, which means the window to prosecute the suspects has passed.

“Because all the offenses occurred, at the latest point, four-and-a-half years ago, in violation of (Guam law), they all violate the statute of limitations, except for the official misconduct charges made against the defendants,” said attorney Leevin Camacho, who represents Quenga. “And (for) that reason, they should all be dismissed.”

The second motion argues that the police officers weren’t brought before a judge within 48 hours of the arrest. Prosecutors have said that the officers were brought before a judge about 11 hours late, but said the delay was because the magistrate judge wasn’t available over the weekend.

That shouldn’t be enough of a reason to delay a court hearing required by law, said defense attorney William Pole, who represents Manila.

Prosecutors had asked for an emergency exception, but a weekend isn’t an emergency, Pole said. If that were the case, authorities could intentionally arrest suspects on Friday so they could have more time to prepare for court on Monday, Pole said.

“Otherwise the government can create its own emergency, then benefit from that emergency,” Pole said.

In response to this argument, Assistant Attorney General Lea Kear argued that defense attorneys had to prove the suspects had been “prejudiced” by the 11-hour delay. There was no such prejudice, Kear said.

Attorneys on both sides of the case cited several conflicting court cases to defend their position on the 48-hour rule, including a court decision from Sukola herself. Perez said judges had a “divergence of opinions” on the issue.

Response

The re-opened Blue House case also has prompted a response from former Police Chief Frank Ishizaki, who wrote in a PDN column on Monday that the “fiasco” had left the police department “demoralized an embarrassed.”

Ishizaki, also a former senator, questioned why the Office of the U.S. Attorney, who tackled the case before the local prosecutors, never indicted the three police officer suspects. The former chief questioned if the federal authorities “missed the obvious,” or if they felt they didn’t have probable cause against the officer suspects.

“If the feds did not believe they had probable cause to charge the officers, what does the AG’s office honestly believe they have?” Ishizaki wrote in the column. “I wonder if there was such embarrassment from lack of action that officers have now become political pawns in order to correct the mishandling of the matter.”

The Office of the U.S. Attorney didn’t respond to questions yesterday about why it didn’t indict any police officer suspects.