Marc Napolitano testifies at a hearing where three men are trying to get a weapons-smuggling case dismissed. The defense alleges FBI misconduct.
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.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
A day after meeting a pretty young woman working at a karaoke club in the Philippines, Marc Napolitano started getting text messages from her, he said.
The woman, named Maui, wrote that she missed him, loved him and wanted to see him. Within days of their first meeting, Maui went to Napolitano's hotel room, where they had sex, he said.
The room was paid for by American taxpayers, he said. So was the cellphone on which he got her messages, and so were the trips that took him to the Philippines.
Napolitano, an FBI agent, traveled to Manila several times in 2010 and 2011 while working on cases involving weapons trafficking from the Philippines to the United States. He was posing as a club patron while providing security for another undercover FBI agent.
On Friday, he testified in a federal courtroom in downtown Los Angeles as part of a defense motion seeking to throw out criminal charges against three Filipino nationals charged with weapons smuggling.
Deputy Federal Public Defender John Littrell, who represents one of the defendants, has asked a judge to dismiss the case based on "outrageous government misconduct" in the investigation.
Littrell has accused undercover agent Charles Ro of using public funds to knowingly pay for prostitutes from karaoke clubs — widely known to double as brothels — for the defendants to induce them to participate in the smuggling scheme.
Government attorneys and agents dispute the allegations and have responded in court papers that the defense's claims are meritless.
A spokeswoman with the FBI in Los Angeles declined to comment because the hearing was ongoing.
Napolitano and other undercover agents served as surveillance teams and provided security for Ro, who was posing as a weapons broker for a Mexican drug cartel while interacting with the defendants.
Ro met in clubs with Sergio Santiago Syjuco, Cesar Ubaldo and Filipino customs official Arjyl Revereza, who have been charged with smuggling assault rifles, grenade launchers and mortar launchers from the Philippines to Long Beach in June 2011. The weapons were shipped in containers labeled "Used Personal Effects."
The U.S. government has acknowledged in court filings that the undercover agents were reimbursed for entertainment, cocktails and tips. Napolitano testified that he was "absolutely not" offered sex for money, nor did he solicit it, while in the clubs.
He said he didn't think any of the women in the clubs were prostitutes: "They're just hostess girls. They were there to socialize with the customers who came into the bars."
He wrote in court filings that he "never saw any defendant engage in any sexual act." Syjuco and Ubaldo, however, testified Thursday that they had sex with prostitutes paid for by Ro while he was undercover.
Defense attorneys questioned Napolitano about whether Maui was a prostitute, which Napolitano denied. He said he met her at a club while with other agents and selected her from a group of women to be his paid companion for the evening.
Agents have written in court filings that customers in the clubs were expected to buy drinks and food for female hostesses who sat near them and to pay a sitting fee.
Napolitano did pay Maui about $80 after they had sex, but he said the money was to pay for medicine for her father, who had recently suffered a stroke. He said Maui was one of several karaoke bar workers he messaged on his government-issued cellphone while in the Philippines.
The three defendants have pleaded not guilty. If convicted, each faces up to 20 years in prison. The hearing on the defense's motion to dismiss the case is expected to continue Tuesday.