Ex-Peruvian officer's setback

Appeals court ruling puts Montgomery resident closer to deportation

July 04, 2008|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,Sun reporter

A former Peruvian military officer accused of war crimes in his native country is closer to being deported by U.S. immigration authorities after a Maryland Court of Special Appeals decision yesterday, according to his attorneys and court records.

The state's second-highest court denied Juan Manuel Rivera-Rondon's appeal of a Montgomery County criminal conviction, which helped trigger federal deportation efforts. Rivera-Rondon had claimed that he pleaded guilty to a charge similar to child abuse after assurances from county prosecutors and federal authorities that doing so would not force his deportation.

But in March last year, federal immigration authorities began deportation proceedings against him. Since then, his case has wended through the immigration and federal appeals process. A week ago, a judge on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied Rivera-Rondon's request to stay in the country, one of his attorneys said.

"His fear is of being returned to Peru," said Jason L. Pope, an attorney representing Rivera-Rondon in the immigration case. Pope said that in proceedings last year, an immigration judge had ruled that Rivera-Rondon should not be deported because of the likelihood that he would be tortured, but her decision was overturned by subsequent immigration and federal judges' decisions.

Peruvian authorities requested the extradition of Rivera-Rondon, 48, who had been living as a permanent resident in Montgomery County for several years. That government has accused him of participating in war crimes in 1985, in a massacre of 69 villagers in an area that was believed to be a stronghold of the Shining Path guerrilla group.

It was unclear when Rivera-Rondon arrived in the United States. But in October 2003, while living in Germantown, Rivera-Rondon was arrested on child abuse and sex-offense charges involving a young relative, according to court records.

He pleaded guilty to a "child in need of assistance" charge and was given probation before judgment. He contends in court papers that his plea was part of a deal that protected him from being deported.

He was arrested in April last year by federal immigration agents and has been detained at the Dorchester County Detention Center on the Eastern Shore, Pope said. Since the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency began deportation proceedings against him, Rivera-Rondon's attorneys have tried to get his conviction in Montgomery County overturned by filing appeals.

Yesterday, that effort failed.

"There was somebody from the immigration service who told him they would not take action based on this plea" in Montgomery County, said Gary Bair, his attorney in the criminal appeals case. "Then eight months later, they took action on this plea."

Bair said he planned to appeal yesterday's ruling next week to the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state's highest court. But Pope, Rivera-Rondon's immigration attorney, said the man could be deported to Peru before that appeal is heard in the state court.


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