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Allegedly took cash from illegal Chinese taxi drivers

By Ferdie de la Torre SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Nov. 18, 2009) - The Federal Bureau of Investigation has arrested a police detective who allegedly extorted money from unlicensed Chinese taxi drivers in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Saipan.

FBI agents arrested Detective Christopher Leon Guerrero on Monday, shortly after the U.S. government filed a complaint charging him with interference with commerce by threats or violence/Hobbs Act extortion under color of official right.

According to FBI special agent Haejun Park, the 43-year-old Leon Guerrero used his official position at the Department of Public Safety to demand and receive payments ranging from $300 to $700 from drivers of illegal taxicabs in exchange for dismissing their criminal cases and returning to the drivers the seized vehicles.

Leon Guerrero's rank is Police Officer 2. He is the current supervisor of the Thief Apprehension Select Coalition, a task force formed by the DPS in 2002 to battle rising cases of burglary, theft, and robbery in the CNMI.

Saipan Tribune learned that the FBI served the arrest warrant on Leon Guerrero when the detective showed up at the Horiguchi Building in Garapan.

The complaint was filed under seal on Monday but U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Alex R. Munson granted the U.S. government's motion to unseal the case yesterday.

Munson set the bail hearing for Friday, Nov. 20, at 11am and remanded Leon Guerrero to the custody of the U.S. Marshal. He set the preliminary hearing for Nov. 25 at 10am.

The O'Connor law firm, which is representing Leon Guerrero, said it will argue for bail.

In the U.S. government's motion to seal the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric O'Malley stated that the affidavit to support the complaint contains details of other ongoing investigations that may, if disclosed, jeopardize the identity of the government's confidential source.

FBI special agent Park stated in his affidavit that a source provided information in the past five months about Leon Guerrero's scheme to extort money from unlicensed taxi operators.

Park said that, in July 2009 the source approached the FBI and disclosed that he had been previously arrested by Leon Guerrero for operating an unlicensed taxi. The source was jailed for one night. Upon release, the source met with Leon Guerrero to inquire about getting his vehicle back.

Park said that Leon Guerrero told the source that something could be worked out.

On the evening of the next day, the source received a telephone call from Leon Guerrero, who instructed the source to meet him at the Price Costco parking lot, where a $500 payment was discussed to get the source's vehicle. The next day, the source met with Leon Guerrero and allegedly paid $500 in cash. Park said the payment was made to the detective inside the police station and the vehicle was released to the source after the transaction was completed.

In another instance in September 2009, Park said, the source introduced an acquaintance to the FBI who had also been recently arrested for operating an unlicensed taxi.

Leon Guerrero was then contacted by the source to obtain information on how the source's acquaintance vehicle could be returned. Leon Guerrero allegedly advised him that the vehicle would be released in exchange for $300.

Park said that, Oct. 4, 2009, the source, acting on behalf of the acquaintance, met with Leon Guerrero and paid $300.

For the next several days after the "transaction," the source had several telephone conversations with Leon Guerrero, including a possible dismissal of the investigation against the source's acquaintance. Park said Leon Guerrero asked for $500 to have the case dismissed.

On Oct. 9, 2009, the source met with Leon Guerrero and paid $200 of the $500 being asked. Seven days later, the source paid the remaining $300 to Leon Guerrero.

Park said the FBI recorded several of those discussions.

Recently, the agent said, the FBI interviewed a witness about a separate matter. Park said the witness voluntarily admitted to working with Leon Guerrero in extorting money from unlicensed Chinese taxi drivers.

In over eight occasions, Leon Guerrero would allegedly contact the witness who spoke Chinese and instruct the witness to contact unlicensed taxi drivers.

Leon Guerrero provided the telephone numbers of the drivers to the witness.

At the direction of Leon Guerrero, Park said, the witness would advise the drivers that if they want to get their vehicles returned, they would have to pay him (witness) money for the release of the car.

Payments demanded by Leon Guerrero and the witness ranged from $300 to $700, according to the special agent.

Park said once the driver made the payment to the witness, the money would be split with Leon Guerrero and the witness, and the vehicle released to the driver.

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