Tax sweep could affect thousands of immigrants
GREELEY, Colo. An immigrant’s tax scam in Weld County has launched a sweeping investigation authorities say could yield 1,300 arrests over the next year a crackdown some complain is a backhanded attempt to oust immigrants.The Weld County District Attorney, Ken Buck, says authorities have traced some $2.6 million in payments by the IRS to illegal immigrants using phony Social Security numbers.The filings were traced to Amalia’s Translation and Tax Services in Greeley, where investigators last summer started searching for examples of identity theft.The probe started after a Texas man discovered someone in northern Colorado was using his Social Security number to get IRS refunds. Servando Trejo, who worked at a Kersey feed lot, was arrested and charged with identity theft.The tax preparer, Amalia Cerrillo, told authorities that Trejo and other immigrants came in with phony Social Security numbers, launching an identity theft investigation Buck described as “overwhelming,” with thousands of records seized and about 1,300 arrests expected through 2009.But the identity theft crackdown smacks of anti-immigrant persecution, according to some immigrant advocates in Greeley. They say they’re reminded of immigration raids two years ago at a Swift & Co. meatpacking plant.”The solution is not rounding up people in police raids like Swift or little tax services that serve Latinos,” said Kimberly Baker-Medina, a Fort Collins immigration attorney. “The solution is passing some sort of immigration reform.”Weld authorities defend the probe, which they’ve dubbed Operation Number Games. They say tax fraud is the target, not immigrants.”If you break the law, you pay the consequences,” Greeley Mayor Ed Clark told the Greeley Tribune.But Jeff Joseph, a Denver immigration attorney, told the newspaper that he suspects the tax investigation is suspiciously timed.Joseph pointed out that federal courts are divided on how to interpret when identity theft becomes a federal crime, and so the Weld County officials may be trying to see immigrant tax scofflaws deported before a possible Supreme Court decision on the question.”In the meantime, Ken Buck, right out of the chute is racing to get these convictions in before the Supreme Court rules on the issue,” Joseph said. “These people will be long gone by then. They will have pled guilty to crimes they never should have pled to in the first place.”Already at least 15 people in Weld County have been arrested in Operation Number Games. Authorities said arrests would continue through the weekend and likely into 2009, with up to 1,300 arrests possible.So far, the tax preparer has not been charged with a crime. But immigration advocates say the immigrants themselves are unlikely to understand complicated tax schemes, so they probably relied on the tax preparer when filling out forms.”They should be investigating that rather than splitting apart 1,300 families, especially when they know the charges are questionable in the first place,” Joseph said.
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Cam Daniel is a former youth addiction counselor who’s been a Pitkin County sheriff’s deputy for three years.