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.

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