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Reversal in forgery, ID theft case for Willmar immigrant

WILLMAR -- The Minnesota Court of Appeals has reversed a Willmar woman's conviction for aggravated forgery and identity theft because the district court should have suppressed biographical evidence gathered by agents from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and later used by local investigators in the state case against her.

The appeals court, in a published opinion issued Tuesday, reversed the convictions of Iris Janeth Maldonado-Arr-eaga.

The court ruled that the information gathered by ICE agents, who conducted a warrantless raid on Maldonado-Arreaga's home and arrested her in April 2007, should have been suppressed because it was obtained through unconstitutional governmental action.

Further, the court ruled that evidence gathered -- with the biographical information from an ICE form on Maldonado-Arreaga -- in the state case should have been suppressed. The evidence included I-9 employment documents from Jennie-O Turkey Store and driver's license documents from the Department of Public Safety, gathered by a Willmar police detective soon after the ICE activity in Willmar.

The county attorney's office is evaluating an appeal of the decision, Connie Crowell, first assistant county attorney, said Thursday. Other than stating that there "some" similar cases that may be impacted by the decision, Crowell deferred further comment on the matter to County Attorney Boyd Beccue, who was out of the office this week.

Sharon Jacks, assistant public defender with the State Public Defenders office in St. Paul, argued the Maldonado-Arreaga case before the appeals court. She said that there is one very similar case, that of Ana Danira Hernandez-Maldonado, that was presented to the appeals court on July 20. A decision should be made in that case by next month, as the appeals court has 90 days to issue rulings.

While there are no other appeals pending on Kandiyohi County cases, Jacks did field calls from attorneys involved in other similar cases. "A lot of people were deported long before they could appeal," she said.

According to Tribune archives, the four-day ICE operation conducted in Willmar in April 2007 led to the arrest of 49 people. ICE officials said 18 of those arrested had criminal backgrounds. The sting caused panic within Willmar's Hispanic community. Many people feared the presence of ICE officers would result in a widespread sweep of illegal immigrants, much like the December raid at a Swift & Company meatpacking plant in Worthington. More than 200 workers were arrested during the December 2006 raid.

Many of those arrested in the Willmar ICE raids also filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit, claiming that ICE agents and other authorities broke into homes and randomly stopped Hispanics. That suit was filed by Centro Legal, which has since closed and had represented immigrants on legal issues.

A call placed with the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, which took over many of Centro Legal's cases, was not returned Thursday afternoon.

Gretchen Schlosser

Gretchen Schlosser is the public safety reporter, and writes about agriculture occasionally, for the West Central Tribune. She's been with the Tribune since 2006 and has 17 years of experience working in news, media and communications. 

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