3 get prison terms in labor scam case

3 get prison sentences for mail fraud, fraud in foreign labor contracting, visa fraud

Businessman David Trung Quoc Phan was slapped Friday with a prison term of eight months in prison, while his two co-defendants were sentenced to much longer prison sentences after being convicted of bringing Bangladeshi men to Saipan on promises of good-paying jobs and green cards in exchange for cash.

After his eight-month sentence, Phan will be placed on two years of supervised release. He was not required to pay restitution to the victims, however. U.S. District Court for the NMI designated Judge John C. Coughenour said the testimonies showed that Phan did not collect recruitment fees from the victims.

As for Muksedur Rahman, the judge sentenced him to 48 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release.

His brother, Rafiqul Islam, was sentenced to 18 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release.

Coughenour ordered Rahman and Islam to jointly pay restitution to the victims.

The judge praised the victims for coming forward and testifying truthfully. Coughenour, however, noted that, in other parts of the world, particularly in Southeast Asia, where he has a family, inappropriate payments are common.

The judge said that Rahman and Islam, who have been working in the CNMI for a long time, will be deported after serving their sentences. Coughenour said this a significant hardship as the two will be separated from their young children.

He said the three have no criminal history and it’s one of the factors he considered.

The judge also noted one recent instance in which Rahman found a wallet that contained $4,000 cash and returned it to the owner. Coughenour said it would have been easy for Rahman to just keep the wallet and money as nobody knew about it and there was no video.

Coughenour said he experienced losing his wallet and it was found on the street and returned to him minus the money.

Assistant U.S. attorney James Benedetto, counsel for the U.S. government, recommended 30 months imprisonment or two years and six months for Phan, 120 months or 10 years imprisonment for Rahman, and 37 months or three years and one month for Islam.

Benedetto also asked the court to hold the defendants liable to pay restitution to the victims, along with other victims in a separate recruitment scheme.

Steven Pixley, counsel for the 54-year-old Phan, said they are happy with his client’s sentence.

Pixley said the judge considered all the factors and found that Phan’s role was minimal as he never went to Bangladesh and that it was very clear he was not involved in money transactions.

Pixley said Phan, however, has an option to appeal.

Robert Torres, counsel for Rahman, said the court has the discretion under the law and that they feel that Coughenour applied those factors.

Torres said the U.S. government was arguing a range far beyond what they (him and Rahman) believe to be reasonable and more than necessary.

“We feel that the court ultimately landed at a sentence that was not only reasonable but humane. The court listened to everyone; it did not disregard anyone,” Torres said.

Torres said the judge ultimately found Rahman’s presence of 22 years in the Commonwealth, even his recent act of finding a wallet with $4,000 in it and returning it, to be indicative of those character that one act did not besmirch that character.

While Rahman regrets his conviction, he looks forward to his redemption and apologizes to the victims for the harm on them, and wishes them well, he said

“We look forward to what we can do on appeal but we appreciate the court’s sentence today,” Torres said.

Bruce Berline, counsel for the 38-year-old Islam, said he believes that the judge took into consideration all the relevant factors, especially the cultural differences and prevalence of cultural monetary practices.

“I think that’s relevant. I think he gave Mr. Islam a very fair and appropriate sentence. We’re happy,” Berline said.

He, however, stated that appeals in this type are pretty much automatic, just a review by the higher court.

Last Oct. 18, the jury found Phan guilty of two counts of mail fraud, three counts of fraud in foreign labor contracting, and one count of fraud and misuse of visas and permits.

Rahman, a welder, was found guilty of two counts of mail fraud and three counts of fraud in foreign labor contracting.

Islam, a welder, was found guilty of one count of mail fraud and three counts of fraud in foreign labor contracting.

Assistant U.S. attorneys Eric O’Malley and James Benedetto prosecuted the case.

Benedetto said every CW-1 permit approved for a sham employer for a non-existent job represents one less nurse at the Commonwealth Health Center, one less power plant operator for the Commonwealth Utilities Corp., or one less worker for the CNMI economy.

After the prosecution rested its case during the trial, Phan’s fiancée, Analyn Nunez and Rahman’s wife, Shahinur Akter, were acquitted. Defendant Zeaur Rahman Dalu pleaded guilty.

According to the U.S. government, each of the victims paid over $10,000, but when they arrived on Saipan in April of 2016, they were not given work as promised.

The government named five victims, all Bangladeshis, in the case.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com

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