When Henry Hernandez accepted a secret plea agreement to settle the state's attorney's drug kingpin case against him, he was told he probably wouldn't have to serve any time behind bars.
But, as a resultof the agreement, Hernandez could find himself kicked out of the country he has called home for 11 years.
Hernandez was among the first three people charged under the state's drug kingpin law in Carroll. He, his brother Fernando, and Fernando's wife Bonnie, were indicted last January on the drug kingpin charges, charges that were dropped after all three entered into plea agreements with State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman.
Henry Hernandez pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy charges last year and was given a 10-year suspended sentence Feb. 20 by Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr.
Two weeks later, Immigration and Naturalization Service officers arrested him at a home in Carroll County. He is formally charged with being deportable.
He has been detained at the Wicomico County Detention Center since then on $25,000 bond, and faces his first deportation hearing Tuesday in Immigration Court in Baltimore.
Henry Hernandez has had a "green card" for the last 11 years, since he left his native Colombia.
As a legal registered alien, a drug conviction -- misdemeanor or felony -- is grounds for deportation, according to immigration officials.
"Drugs is one of our priorities," said Louis Nardi, assistant director for investigations at the service's Baltimoreoffice. "If you are convicted of trafficking in narcotics, you can be deported."
How the immigration service learned of the convictionstemming from the secret plea agreement is not clear. Nardi said that they rely on a network of "informants, liaison, court people and prosecutors" to provide them with information. But he would not divulgehow he learned of Hernandez's conviction.
Hickman would not say whether his office informed INS of the conviction, but he did say thatsuch notification is routine.
"A year and a half ago, the INS came to us as elected state's attorneys and asked us to let them know about people who are aliens who get into trouble," the state's attorneysaid.
Should the immigration judge rule in favor of deportation, Henry Hernandez could be on a plane to Colombia -- at the government's expense -- within a month, said Bud Iverson, supervisor of the deportation office in Salisbury.
Henry Hernandez is one of about 120 aliens awaiting deportation proceedings there.
"Federal law on drugs is very strict," he said. Should Hernandez appeal a decision, it would be heard by a three-member Board of Immigration Appeals. Their decision is usually upheld, he said.
And, officials said, a guilty conviction on drug charges -- even if it is the result of a plea agreement -- is hard to overcome at a deportation hearing.
"This is a rough fate for someone who has been living in this country for a long time," Hickman said.
"He's fighting this vigorously, but I suspecthe's going to lose."
While Henry Hernandez's sentence was suspended, his brother received a 14-year state prison sentence -- which he is trying to appeal -- as a result of pleading guilty to similar offenses.
Bonnie Hernandez was given a three-year suspended sentence and was placed on probation for a misdemeanor charge of conspiring to distribute cocaine.
Details of the plea agreement between Henry Hernandez and Hickman's office were sealed by Burns after a brief, closed discussion at the bench during his Feb. 20 sentencing.
Hickman,the judge and Hernandez's lawyers declined to discuss the agreement.Plea agreements are typically sealed when either the defendant in a criminal case would be put in danger or when revealing the agreement would hurt ongoing police investigations.
Hickman and the Carroll County Narcotics Task Force had hailed the trio's arrest under the kingpin statue -- used when large amounts of drugs are involved -- because it was the first time the law was used here.
Prosecutors said that the three were responsible for the operation of a Florida-to-Carroll cocaine ring. However, they were never able to produce enough evidence to prove the trio had sold enough drugs to be charged under the statute.