Ombudsman files charges vs. investigator, kin over foiled P3M extortion
08 August 2017
The Office of the Ombudsman has filed criminal charges against Associate Graft Investigation Officer III Leonardo Nicolas, Jr. and his cousin, Labor Arbiter Isagani Laurence Nicolas of the National Labor Relations Commission-Dagupan City Branch, for Direct Bribery and violation of Section 7(d) of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees (Republic Act No. 6713). The bribery charges were filed yesterday at the Sandiganbayan while the charges for R.A. 6713 were filed before the Municipal Trial Court of Lingayen, Pangasinan.
AGIO III Nicolas was under surveillance for several weeks after the Ombudsman received a tip that the investigator, pretending to be a lawyer, was trying to extort P3,000,000.00 from local officials in Pangasinan in exchange for the dropping of complaints undergoing fact-finding investigation. The complaint narrated that AGIO Nicolas contacted Pangasinan Legal Officer Geraldine Baniqued requesting a meeting and claimed that the Ombudsman was conducting an investigation against Bugallon Mayor Jumen Anthony Espino. During the meeting in May 2017, AGIO Leonardo asked for P150,000.00 to P250,000.00 per allegation, or a whopping total of P1.35M because the complaint contained nine allegations. Afterwards, several text messages were sent by AGIO Nicolas to Baniqued insisting the payment of money in exchange for the dropping of charges.
On 14 July 2017, a text message was sent by Labor Arbiter Nicolas to the Pangasinan Provincial Accountant claiming that he knew of someone who could help them facilitate their cases with the Ombudsman and requested for an appointment. That evening at Lenox hotel in Dagupan, the cousins Nicolas met with local officials of Pangasinan presenting fake documents on three bogus Ombudsman cases. AGIO Nicolas claimed that he could facilitate the dismissal of the three cases in exchange for P1million per case.
On 21 July 2017, a joint operation was led by the Ombudsman and the National Bureau of Investigation in a resort in Lingayen, Pangasinan. During the entrapment operation, the respondents were caught red-handed receiving the marked money. AGIO III Nicolas was also caught with a bogus copy of an Evaluation Report purportedly issued by the Field Investigation Office. The fake Evaluation Report was presented in exchange for P3,000,000.00.
“Respondents worked in tandem- respondent Leonardo communicating with Atty. Baniqued, and respondent Isagani contacting complainant and later on introducing to him respondent Leonardo as an OMB lawyer – all with the end goal of demanding money from the Espino family to facilitate the dismissal of fictitious cases against Complainant Espino and Mayor Espino. That the respondents were a team in their attempt at extortion is further proven by their presence during the pre-arranged meeting when the P3million was supposed to change hands,” the Ombudsman stated.
On 24 July 2017, the Ombudsman issued the preventive suspension orders against the respondents for a period of six months.
Under the Revised Penal Code, Direct Bribery is committed by a public officer who receives, directly or through another, some gift or present, offer or promise in consideration of the commission of some crime, or any act not constituting a crime, or to refrain from doing an official act relating to the exercise of functions as a public officer. R.A No. 6713 on the other hand, prohibits all public officials and employees from soliciting or accepting, directly or indirect any gift, gratuity, favor, entertainment, loan or anything of monetary value in connection with any operation being regulated by his office. ###