Mike Heine/The Week
(Published May 29, 2007, 11:56 a.m.)
Business at Whitewater's Star Packaging has slowed since the company was raided by local police and federal immigration agents on Aug. 8. But the criminal court case against its owner, Allen L. Petrie, accused of conspiracy to commit identity theft, steams along.
Petrie, 48, is charged with six felonies for allegedly hiring workers who he knew had false or stolen identities.
Defense attorney Stephen Glynn said after a motion hearing Monday that the case is heading toward trial. Assistant District Attorney Diane Donohoo agreed, but said the door remains open for a settlement.
Glynn asserts Petrie followed appropriate hiring practices and that many of the 25 Mexican workers arrested Aug. 8 for immigration and identity crimes were actually working through a temporary staffing agency. He wondered why the Elkhorn-based staffing agency has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
"As the police records reflect, there was an assertion of belief that (my) client was receiving a group of people who were appropriate employees," from the staffing agency, Glynn said. "It's kind of like saying that if you receive something from an office supply store and it turns out that someone put something illegal in the package, that you're somehow responsible for it."
Glynn, who represented convicted killer Steven Avery in his wrongful imprisonment case against Manitowoc County, said it's the first time he's seen the identity theft law used in this way. He's also never seen an identity theft investigation morph to include a federal immigration raid.
"This is one of these situations in which the state is using a statute that, I think, probably wasn't too much to be used in this fashion," Glynn said. "The typical use of identity theft (law) is somebody getting a copy of someone else's charge card and securing property or goods or services on the bases of using it. That's what most people have in mind. They don't have in mind someone getting a job that the other's aren't seeking."
Donohoo said earlier that the district attorney's office is prosecuting because any use of another's social security or identity is illegal. Two citizens who allegedly had their identity stolen by immigrants who worked at Star Packaging were children ages 10 and 16, according to court records.
"Employers cannot knowingly employ people, continue to have them on staff or continue to facilitate their pay when they know that that person is using someone else's Social Security number," Donohoo said in an earlier interview.
Police warned Petrie several times about employing people with false or stolen identities, Donohoo said.
Petrie followed all standard hiring practices and actually didn't directly employ some of the workers since they were through the staffing agency, Glynn said.
"It's an identity theft case where the state is asserting my client knew other people were using identification that belonged to third parties and somehow those third parties were being damaged, and that his participation in (employees') use of others' identity was to the detriment of those others is a crime," Glynn said. "We say that simply didn't happen."
The Issue: Whitewater businessman Allen L. Petrie, owner of Star Packaging, is charged with six counts of conspiracy to commit identity theft, a felony. He is accused of employing Mexican immigrants who allegedly used stolen or made up identities. An Aug. 8 Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid at the company led to the arrest of 25 suspected undocumented immigrants.
What's new: At a motion hearing Monday it was learned that now-retired Whitewater investigator Larry P. Meyer and Detective Ryan Weston interviewed Petrie the day of the raid. Glynn wants to suppress testimony from those interviews, alleging Petrie invoked his right to a lawyer before he had discussions with the officers.
What's next: Judge Robert Kennedy will decide on the motion before the weeklong trial, set to start July 23. Most other motions have been resolved.
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