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Whitewater business owner pleads guilty

Identity theft charges follow raid by police and immigration officials

Mike Heine/The Week

(Published July 23, 2007, 10:52 a.m.)

"Why have you chosen to plead?" Walworth County Judge Robert Kennedy asked Allen L. Petrie, the 48-year-old owner of Star Packaging in Whitewater.

"Because I've committed a crime, sir." Petrie responded.

Petrie pleaded guilty this morning to five counts of conspiracy to commit identity theft. He was accused of knowingly hiring illegal immigrants and keeping them employed despite being told by police that those employees had fake or stolen identities.

Petrie declined to comment afterward.

His attorney, Stephen Glynn, pointed to Petrie's wife when asked why he accepted the plea. It was a family decision, Glynn said. He said he would comment more after the Oct. 15 sentencing.

Both the prosecution and defense will argue only for probation and not recommend any prison. The state will limit its jail recommendation to six months.

Petrie had faced a maximum prison sentence of 36 years and fines up to $60,000 if convicted of the six felonies he was charged with. One count was dismissed and read in and the state agreed not to charge up to nine other counts it says it could have proved, according to the plea.

The case had hundreds of pages of investigative reports, used countless man-hours and created a Latino community in Whitewater that has been leery of police. An Aug. 8, 2006, raid at the company led to the arrest of Petrie and 25 suspected illegal immigrants by federal agents.

Was the conviction worth it?

"Absolutely," Assistant District Attorney Diane Donohoo said. "The goal here was for Mr. Petrie to acknowledge his criminal behavior. The goal here is deterrence. This is not a prison case, in my opinion."

To both Donohoo's and Glynn's knowledge, Petrie was the Wisconsin first business owner charged with a state identity theft crime for hiring people with false or stolen identities. Donohoo expected it to not be the last.

"The information of a Social Security number cannot be used to obtain something of value," Donohoo said. "That is a crime against the state. It doesn't matter if the people are here legally or not."

The defense has repeatedly accused lead investigator Larry Meyer, who has since retired from the force after 33 years, of racial profiling. Meyer is the subject of a federal civil suit where he is accused by another former Whitewater business owner of harassment that included continued investigation of a Latino workforce.

"You have to remember, what the defense was saying before today was one thing. What did he say today? 'I plead guilty because I committed these crimes,'" Donohoo said. "He has finally accepted his responsibility. The blaming, the finger pointing, that's over with. Today, he's a convicted felon."

 

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