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FBI agent's conduct questioned at arms trafficking hearing

An FBI agent is accused of using public funds to pay for prostitutes, possibly including minors, to induce participation in a smuggling scheme. Above, prostitutes and strip clubs in the Philippines in 2009. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

More testimony is expected Friday in the case of an FBI agent who went undercover to ensnare three men in a weapons trafficking case -- but ended up having his conduct being put on trial in downtown Los Angeles.

Charles Ro is the undercover FBI agent accused by the defense in the weapons trafficking case of using public funds to pay for prostitutes in the Philippines.

On Thursday, Sergio Santiago Syjuco, a Filipino national, testified as part of a defense motion seeking to throw out the criminal weapons charges against him and the two others, alleging Ro committed "outrageous government misconduct" while investigating the case.

Government attorneys and Ro dispute the allegations. Prosecutors are expected to present evidence Friday rebutting the allegations.

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

The expenses included $1,600 at a club known as Area 51, which was later raided by Filipino authorities for employing 19 underage girls. In a news release, the Philippines National Bureau of Investigation wrote that the minors danced in the nude and provided "sex services" for pay.

Syjuco, Cesar Ubaldo and Filipino customs official Arjyl Revereza were charged with smuggling assault rifles, grenade launchers and mortar launchers from the Philippines to Long Beach in June 2011 in containers labeled "Used Personal Effects."

They have pleaded not guilty and face up to 20 years in prison if convicted, authorities said.

In a sworn declaration, Ro said he met with the suspects three times at Area 51 and three times at another club, Air Force One. During each meeting, undercover agents and local investigators were present, providing security.

Ro's undercover persona was that of an arms broker for wealthy Mexican drug cartels that wanted to import illegal weapons into the United States, according to his declaration.

"I never saw any defendant engage in any sexual act," the agent wrote. "I was never told by any manager that the bill included prostitution, nor did I ever see prostitution, in any term, listed on any bill."

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-- Hailey Branson-Potts

Photo: Prostitutes and strip clubs in the Philippines in 2009. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

 
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