Tactics are questioned in Star Packaging case

Investigation revolved around employment practices

(Published October. 12, 2006, 8:38 a.m.)

By Mike Heine/The Week

A defense attorney believes racial profiling is the reason local police asked federal officials to verify the identities of only non-Caucasian workers at a Whitewater business accused of employing illegal immigrants.

"You're given a list of 45 names, and you just automatically know that none of the people that are Caucasian on that list aren't involved in identity theft?" defense attorney Frank Lettenberger asked Tuesday after the preliminary hearing for his client, Allen L. Petrie.

Petrie, the 47-year-old owner of Star Packaging, 960 E. Milwaukee St., Whitewater, is charged with a single count of conspiracy to commit identity theft. He is accused of telling immigrant employees to use false names and Social Security numbers to maintain employment at the company.

The investigation of Star Packaging was led by retired Whitewater police investigator Larry Meyer.

Lettenberger has accused Meyer of racial profiling.

Meyer testified Tuesday that he had numerous contacts with Petrie leading up to the Aug. 8 raid at Star Packaging, which included agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Social Security Administration and local and county police.

Meyer said he repeatedly told Petrie not to hire or employ individuals using false identification and even offered to find out who was using stolen Social Security numbers.

Meyer testified that Petrie gave him a list of 45 employees the company hired directly. Other employees at the business came from an Elkhorn-based staffing agency.

Meyer sent 24 of the 45 names to the Social Security Administration for verification. Meyer said he didn't send the 21 other names because he didn't believe they had questionable identities.

"I picked out the ones that I did not know," Meyer said under cross-examination.

Of the 24 names he sent for verification, none were Caucasian.

"How do you just randomly pick those names out?" Lettenberger said after the hearing. "I would think that if you're trying to look through it that you investigate all of the names in there."

Assistant District Attorney Diane Donohoo defended Meyer's action, saying Meyer is being unfairly criticized.

"Look at his whole career. Look at his whole history. Look at how fair and hard-working he is," Donohoo said. "I have said time after time, the worst thing to ever be is a criminal with Larry Meyer working on your case, regardless of your skin color, your age, or anything. I have not seen Larry Meyer be biased."

Meyer retired Sept. 4 after 33 years at the Whitewater Police Department.

During the raid, police arrested 25 suspected illegal Mexican immigrants, nine of whom have since been deported.

Ezequiel Cortez Mendez, once an employee at Star Packaging, testified he worked there first under another name.

However, his paychecks under the false name were being docked for child support. He told Petrie he needed to change his name, and Petrie let him work under a new name.

But Petrie never told him to make up a new name Social Security number, Cortez Mendez said.

Another former Mexican employee, Andres Tizapa Aparicio, also said no one at Star Packaging told him to use another person's identity.

After three hours of testimony Tuesday, Judge John Race ordered the hearing to continue Thursday, Nov. 30.

Donohoo said there was enough evidence Tuesday that she thought about resting after the third witness and asking Race to have the case continue to trial.

"I'm ready to go into a courtroom. The state feels it has an extremely strong case against him or this wouldn't go forward," Donohoo said.

Lettenberger disagreed.

"I didn't hear any testimony today that would have implicated my client," he said. "There were some interesting statements about what has happened thus far. We'll have to go and see what else comes out."

Immigrant status

Gail Montengro, spokesperson for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said that of the 25 immigrants arrested in the Aug. 8 raid at Star Packaging:

-- One was deported because of an outstanding order for deportation in place before the arrest at Star Packaging.

-- One had been deported twice before and therefore was automatically deported a third time.

-- One requested a hearing but was ordered deported because of his criminal record.

-- Six were deported after waiving their right to a hearing and not challenging deportation.

-- Fifteen are out on bond with hearings pending before an immigration judge in Chicago.

-- One is in federal custody facing a criminal charge of reentering the country after a previous deportation.

U.S. deportation process

The deportation process is complicated, but suspected illegal immigrants do have rights, said Elaine Komis, public affairs specialist for the Executive Office for Immigration Review.

Immigration hearings typically proceed as follows:

* The Department of Homeland Security is responsible for immigration enforcement. If it suspects someone is an illegal alien, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents can make an arrest.

* A determination is made whether to charge the individual.

* If charged, the suspected alien is served with a "notice to appear," and case is referred to the Executive Office for Immigration Review.

* It will be transferred to one of the country's 53 immigration courts, usually the one with jurisdiction over the immigrant. For southern Wisconsin, that court is in Chicago.

* The suspected alien will first have a bond hearing before an immigration judge. There, judges ensure immigrants understand the charges and they are told of free or low-cost legal representation options.

* An individual court appearance is next. The immigrant is responsible for his or her own representation. The prosecutor in the case is the Department of Homeland Security.

* Cases are presented and the judge makes a decision if the immigrant is removable under immigration laws or if they are eligible for relief from removal.

* If either side does not agree with the judges' decision, an appeal can be made to the Board of Immigration Appeals.

* The 14-member board, based in Falls Church, Va., conducts a paper review of the case. Either one member or three board members will do the review and a decision is made.

* If the alien does not agree with the outcome, they can file an appeal to the federal court system.

* If the Department of Homeland Security does not agree with the board's decision, it cannot appeal. However, it can ask the U.S. Attorney General to appeal the case to a federal court. Those requests are rare.

* If an immigrant has gone through the entire process, or chooses not to appeal, and is deemed removable from the country, their case goes back under the control of the Department of Homeland Security.

* The Department of Homeland Security is responsible for detention and actual removal arrangements.

Relief from removal

Persons who are deemed removable do have the option to argue for discretionary relief from removal. Common types include:

* Voluntary departure-This most common type of relief allows the alien the chance to remove him or herself at their own expense. It avoids the stigma of formal removal and the alien is usually allowed a month or more to depart.

* Cancellation of removal-Available to qualifying permanent or non-permanent residents. Criteria vary, but immigrants must be in the country continuously for lengthy periods. Neither permanent nor non-permanent residents could be convicted of a removable offense. Non-permanent residents must demonstrate that removal would result in extreme hardship to his or her immediate family members who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.

* Asylum-Requires applicant demonstrate the inability to return due to past persecution or well-founded fear of persecution due to race, religion, nationality, membership of social group or political opinion.

* Adjustment of status-Aliens already in deportation hearings may apply to an immigration judge for a change of status to become a lawful permanent resident. Conditions must be met, including availability of an immigrant visa. Aliens applying for adjustment of status are often petitioned for by a spouse, another family member or employer.

(Sources: Elaine Komis, public affairs specialist for the Executive Office for Immigration Review; Immigration Court Process in the United States Fact Sheet and Forms of Relief From Removal Fact Sheet. Both documents were prepared by the U.S. Department of Justice.)

Complied by Mike Heine of the Janesville Gazette.




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