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FBI agent denies using public funds on prostitutes for suspects

The agent, who was investigating a weapons smuggling case in the Philippines, testifies as the defense for the three suspects seeks to dismiss the case.

January 23, 2013|By Hailey Branson-Potts, Los Angeles Times

An FBI agent who investigated a weapons smuggling case denied Wednesday allegations from defense attorneys that he used public funds to knowingly pay for the suspects to have sex.

The agent, Charles Ro, said that while undercover in the Philippines he frequently took three Filipino nationals accused of weapons smuggling to karaoke bars where scantily clad and sometimes topless young women worked as hostesses.

Ro said the defendants never told him they had engaged in sex with prostitutes at the clubs, nor did the bills he paid indicate that sexual services were being provided.

The defendants, he said, could have had sex without his knowledge.

"Nothing surprises me," Ro said. "But I didn't see it; I didn't experience it."

Ro also denied defense allegations that he had sex with prostitutes at the clubs.

"I didn't do anything wrong at all," he said.

A 16-year FBI veteran, Ro testified as part of a defense motion seeking to throw out the criminal case against Sergio Santiago Syjuco, Cesar Ubaldo and Filipino customs official Arjyl Revereza. They have been charged with smuggling assault rifles, grenade launchers and mortar launchers from the Philippines to Long Beach in June 2011.

Defense attorneys allege that Ro committed "outrageous government misconduct" while investigating the case and that he paid for sex for the defendants to induce them to participate in the smuggling scheme.

One FBI agent connected to the case testified last week that he did have sex with an employee of a karaoke club during the investigation, but denied that the woman was prostitute.

Federal prosecutors have dismissed the defense's allegations of misconduct as meritless.

An FBI spokeswoman in Los Angeles declined to comment because the hearing was ongoing.

In the Philippines, Ro went undercover to pose as a man named Richard Han, a weapons broker for a wealthy Mexican drug cartel.

Ro said that it was not his idea to meet the defendants in the clubs but that he did so to make them feel comfortable as they discussed weapons deals. He testified that he always paid the open tab for all the food, drinks and tips for the defendants and their female hostesses during those meetings.

Federal prosecutors have acknowledged in court filings that the government reimbursed Ro for $14,500 worth of entertainment, cocktails and tips in 2010 and 2011 in connection with the case.

Syjuco and Ubaldo testified last week that they had sex with prostitutes paid for by Ro. Syjuco said it was common knowledge in the Philippines that the karaoke clubs they visited offered prostitution, which Ro and other agents have denied.

Ro said he was fond of Syjuco until Syjuco made "false allegations" about his conduct during their trips to the clubs.

Ro persuaded the defendants to come to the United States in January 2012, hoping to record incriminating statements by them about weapons smuggling before the FBI arrested them.

On their first night in the U.S., Ro said, he took them to two Los Angeles-area strip clubs — Spearmint Rhino and Déjà Vu. He said he did not record any statements from them at the clubs.

Federal prosecutors have acknowledged in court filings that Ro and other agents who provided security were reimbursed $2,325 for entertainment and cocktails, with tips included, for that evening in the strip clubs.

The hearing on the defense's motion to dismiss the case is expected to continue Thursday.

hailey.branson@latimes.com

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