9th Circuit affirms conviction of man in fraud case


The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed Wednesday the conviction of a man who was slapped with an 18-month prison term for his participation in a scheme of bringing Bangladeshi men to Saipan on promises of jobs and green cards in exchange for cash.

The Ninth Circuit ruled that U.S. District Court for the NMI designated Judge John C. Coughenour did not abuse his discretion by denying Mohammed Rafiqul Islam’s request for a new trial because of prosecutorial misconduct.

According to the Ninth Circuit’s ruling issued by Judges Susan P. Graber, Milan Smith, and Paul J. Watford, the lead prosecutor did act improperly in attempting to inject matters outside the record but Coughenour repeatedly intervened to stop his excesses during closing arguments.

The prosecutor did continue to make improper statements but Graber, Smith, and Watford said that Coughenour took appropriate steps to remedy the prosecutor’s improper statements.

Because this misconduct did not go to central issues at trial, Coughenour’s remedies were sufficient, and any errors were harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, the appellate judges said.

A federal jury returned a guilty verdict against Islam last Oct. 18, 2017, on one count of mail fraud and three counts of fraud in foreign labor contracting. Nearly five months later, he was sentenced to 18 months in prison, with supervised release and other conditions. He was ordered to pay $188,426 in restitution for the victims, jointly with his brother and co-defendant, Muksedur Rahman.

Islam, through counsel Bruce Berline, has appealed his conviction to the Ninth Circuit. He asked the District Court for his continued release pending the outcome of his appeal. The court granted that request.

In affirming Islam’s conviction, the Ninth Circuit judges said the District Court did not commit a reversible error in any of its evidentiary rulings.

The appellate judges said the District Court’s evidentiary rulings regarding the National Bank Limited records, a check allegedly signed by Islam, a deposit slip from a bank account, and Islam’s work certifications all fell within the judge’s discretion.

The Ninth Circuit judges said Coughenour may have erred in admitting a set of untranslated Bengali loan and bank records, but that error was harmless.

The Ninth Circuit judges also ruled that Coughenour did not violate the Confrontation Clause by limiting defense counsel’s cross-examination of government witnesses regarding their conversations with their attorney.

The Ninth Circuit judges said Islam has not met his burden to show that the jury “might have received a significantly different impression of [a witness’] credibility” had the judge allowed additional questioning.

“Even considered cumulatively, the errors we have identified are not likely to have ‘materially affect[ed] the verdict’ and, thus are not sufficient to warrant reversal,” the appellate judges said.

Islam’s co-defendants—David Trung Quoc Phan and Muksedur Rahman—have also been convicted. Phan was sentenced to eight months in prison, while Rahman was slapped with a 48-month prison term.

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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