Judge asks Baja accuser to withdraw RICO complaint

by Joseph G. Lariosa

CHICAGO (July 16) — Judge Victor Marrero of the United States District Court of Southern New York asked the lawyers of Marichu Suarez Baoanan to withdraw the RICO claims against former Philippine Permanent Representative to the United Nations Lauro Liboon Baja because according to Baja’s lawyer the complaints “have no legs or factual bases” to stand on.

Marrero made the request to Baoanan’s lawyers, Ivy Suriyopas of the Asian American Legal Defense Fund (AALDEF) and Aaron Mendelsohn of Troutman Sanders LLP, during the case management conference last July 10.

Baoanan claims against Baja and his wife Norma and their adult daughter, Maria Elizabeth Baja Facundo, fall into two categories. The first was based on employment and labor laws, where Bajas allegedly violated “obligations and expectations” out of her employment. These include federal minimum wage violations, state minimum wage violations, unlawful deductions from wages, state overtime violations, spread of hours violations, fraud, negligent misrepresentation, conversion and conspiracy.

The second set of violation is Baja’s alleged actions undertaken to induce Baoanan to travel from the Philippines to the United States. These include “forced labor, trafficking with respect to peonage, slavery, involuntary servitude, or forced labor, violation of Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act, and violation of ATCA.”

When Judge Marrero advised Baoanan’s attorneys that Baoanan has no RICO claim, Attorney Mendelsohn stood up to challenge the Judge’s position. Mendelsohn asked the judge to be allowed to explain by a letter to the court their position on the viability of the RICO claim.

Judge Marrero quickly admonished Mendelsohn to first read the judge’s latest RICO decision in Herman Gross v. Roderick Maywell that was handed down last June 16, 2009. In that decision Judge Marrero expounded on the RICO claims and their viability before even attempting to explain plaintiff’s position in this case.

Baja’s lawyer, Salvador Tuy, further advised the Court that he has demanded of plaintiff’s attorneys the withdrawal of the other causes of action particularly the trafficking cause of action, unlawful conduct with respect to documents (withholding of plaintiff’s passport), the Federal Minimum Wage Violation, Fraud, negligent misrepresentation, conversion and conspiracy.

Tuy had earlier filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted even before the Court ruled on Baja’s claim of diplomatic immunity. His motion, however, was withdrawn by the court pending the ruling of the immunity issue in which Judge Marrero subsequently ruled against Mr. Baja, saying that Baja has no residual immunity.

Judge Marrero ordered the lawyers of both parties to confer and reach a decision as to defendants’ requests before reinstating the motion to dismiss.  The lawyers were given up to July 24 to decide after which they must submit a letter to the court explaining their positions.

Tuy suggested that if the RICO claim is dismissed the value of plaintiff’s case goes down significantly. A RICO claim allows an award of treble damages plus attorney’s fees, hence it is like a “siren song, it has drawn and lured spellbound plaintiffs foundering on the rocks.  Without a RICO claim, Baoanan is left with a simple breach of contract suing for unpaid wages for 3 months at $1,000 a month.”

Tuy said Baoanan’s suit is simply a ploy to obtain a green card allegedly as a victim of a severe form of human trafficking.
The rest of the causes of action are simply a variation of claims that Baoanan was forced to work for 18 hours a day and was not paid overtime rate.

Tuy said Baoanan’s allegations against Baja have yet to be corroborated by other people who worked and lived in the Philippine Mission at 15 East 66th Street, New York, New York, which Imelda Marcos used to call home.

He intends to prove at the trial that Baoanan is a liar and a fraud and will make her pay for her perjuries.  If Baoanan is proved to have lied in her complaint these perjuries can be used to cancel the T visa issued to Baoanan and her family allegedly as victims of a severe form of human trafficking.

Baoanan’s lawyers did not respond to email requests by this reporter for comment.

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