18 Oct 2017
- By Bryan Manabat – [email protected] – Variety News Staff
THE jurors in a foreign labor contracting case began their closed-door deliberations on Tuesday after the prosecution and defense made their closing arguments.
Originally, the U.S. government indicted six defendants: David Trung Quoc Phan, the company president of United Brothers Inc. doing business as TBK Auto Cares, alleged recruiters Muksedur Rahman, Mohammed Rafiqul Islam, Zeaur Dalu, Rahman’s wife, Shahinur Akter, and Phan’s fiancée, Analyn Nunez.
On Thursday, District Court for the NMI designated Senior Judge John C. Coughenor acquitted Akhter and Nunez.
Nunez, a document preparer for United Brothers, was accused of mailing fraudulent CW-1 petitions to U.S. Citizenship Immigration Services while Akter was accused of aiding and abetting his husband in a fraudulent scheme to recruit workers from Bangladesh.
Dalu pleaded guilty to mail fraud and fraud in foreign contracting and testified against his co-defendants.
Islam’s defense counsel Bruce Berline on Tuesday told the jury that the alleged victims provided false testimony in court and falsified work certifications that they submitted with their CW-1 petitions.
Berline said the U.S. government failed to thoroughly investigate the issue before charging the defendants.
Despite alleged payments of large sums of money occurring in Bangladesh, not one U.S. government agent went to Bangladesh to confirm or corroborate any of the alleged victims’ testimony, Berline said.
The U.S. government’s entire case relies mainly on the uncorroborated testimony of the alleged victims, he added.
Robert T. Torres, Rahman’s defense counsel, said: “The sad truth is, the persons who have brought false claims appear on the side of the [U.S.] government.”
He added, “They lied to come here, and lied to stay here” referring to the alleged victims.
He noted the gaps in the presentation of the U.S. government’s case. “But it’s not for you to fill the gaps,” he added as he reminded jurors that the prosecution must prove each of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. “They don’t get the benefit of the doubt,” Torres said referring to the prosecution.
He said there was no proof of solicitation, and there was no intent to defraud on the part of Rahman.
The testimonies of the witnesses, Torres added, raised more questions than answers.
Like Berline, Torres also moved for a mistrial after Judge Coughenour gave instructions to the jurors and excused them. But the judge denied the defense lawyers’ motions.
Speaking for Phan, attorney Steven Pixley told the jury that it is his client who was the victim in the case.
“They lied to him,” Pixley said, referring to the alleged victims who were given jobs by Phan.
Pixley said Phan was surprised when he found out that the workers paid large amounts of money to work on Saipan.
The workers begged Phan to renew their contracts even though they could not perform the jobs they were supposed to do, Pixley said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney James Benedetto, for his part, told the jury that “what the defense lawyers want you to hear here is that the victims don’t deserve immigration benefits.”
He added, “They [defense lawyers] want you to decide based on emotion.”
Benedetto said the workers are known to the defendants, adding that Rahman is related to some of the workers.
Benedetto also challenged the testimony of defense witness Wahedul Islam.
According to the prosecutor, Wahedul Islam has a clear bias because he is a long-time friend of defendant Md. Rafiqul Islam, adding that the two had exchanged gifts.
Wahedul Islam denied witnessing an exchange of money between Rafiqul Islam and the workers, but they testified that he was there and saw the money exchanges, Benedetto said.
Regarding Phan, Benedetto said his tax returns did not indicate that the Bangladeshi workers were employees of United Brothers Inc.
The tax returns also showed that Phan did not withhold any CNMI taxes under Chapter 2 of the Northern Marianas Territorial Income Tax even though such withholdings were deducted from his legitimate employees’ paychecks.
As for Phan being a victim, Benedetto said the defendant found workers willing to pay to work on Saipan.
Benedetto also said that the work certifications submitted by the workers for their work visa came from defendant Md. Rafiqul Islam.
Md. Rafiqul Islam told one of the workers that the work certification that he had acquired would not do and that he had to get another one, the prosecutor said.
Those two work certifications for the same worker were found when a Homeland Security Investigation unit served a search warrant for TBK Auto Cares, Benedetto said.
It’s only natural for people to apply for immigration benefits, he added. “There is nothing wrong with applying for immigration benefit when you are a victim.”
Source: Marianas Variety : http://www.mvariety.com/cnmi/cnmi-news/local/99387-jurors-begin-deliberations-in-labor-case