Blogging mostly about mundane stuff like, immigration, Workers' Compensation and other immigrant related activities.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Pedro, Come Get Your Money.

In 2005 Pedro Zapeta was stopped at a security checkpoint at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Zapeta was getting ready to board a flight bound for his native Guatemala. He was returning home, to his native Guatemala after 11 years of living and worked in the US, as an undocumented worker.

Zapeta reportedly worked most of those years as a Dish Washer earning no more than $5.50 per hour.

A search of Zapeta's bags revealed that he possessed $59,000 in US currency. The fact that Zapeta failed to declare such funds, resulted in his detention and seizure of $49,000 of his money. Zapeta claimed that he was unaware that federal law required anyone leaving or entering the country with $10,000 or more declare such funds.

Zapeta's story was reported by CNN in September 2007 and over 100 blog posts then followed. MigraMatters posted an excellent analysis on the flawed decision by US District Judge James I. Cohn, the same determination was made by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday. CitizenOrange also weighed in with a good post.

The blogosphere commentary on Mr. Zapeta's circumstances were largely divided between pro-immigrant and anti-immigrant lines. The anti-immigrant groups were quick to side with the US Government and declare Mr. Zapeta a "criminal illegal alien", who should lose his money and quickly deported, al while forgetting that he was at an airport, ready to board a flight when he was caught with his "undeclared funds".

At the blog a lone comment from reader, Bob West stated:

If you were US District Judge James I. Cohn, what would you have done? It’s clear that laws were broken. What penalties should Mr. Pedro Zapeta have had applied in the delivery justice for his failure to file the correct form and tax evasion infractions?

In pursuing this case, Judge Cohn had a choice, a criminal or a civil proceeding. Clearly, everyone who feels like Mr. Zapeta is guilty of something here would agree this should have tried as a criminal matter. Had he been found for a criminal violation, the fine would have been up to $5000 on the matter of the form.

Judge Cohn, however, instead chose to try this as a civil matter. What’s the likelihood he knew enough about the case in advance to suspect Mr. Zapeta’s guilt? Hard to say. We would like to believe our federal judges are honest and ethical and are committed to delivering justice. What Judge James I. Cohn did know in advance, and very well to be sure since this is the essence of his job, was that the damages Mr. Zapeta faced as a civil defendant against the government were vastly higher.

This is injustice, not justice.

As to the taxes, an appropriate claim for taxes due could have filed by the IRS. Even the additional punitive charges for failure to file/pay could have been applied. Damages would still not equate to the justice Mr. Pedro Zapeta has received as a result of this civil suit.

If anyone disagrees with this ruling of US District Judge James I. Cohn, they should let him know what they think. They should hold him accountable.

After a quick Google search, this is the phone number to his office. You can leave him a voice mail by dialing:


and then pressing 6

Or you could write him, this is his address:

299 East Broward Boulevard, 203F
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33301

This is a federal judge, he works for you.

Let him now how you feel.

Bob West on 28 Sep 2007 at 5:53 pm

On June 23, 2008, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the judge who fined Pedro Zapeta applied an incorrect standard in determining the amount to be forfeited. The appeals court ordered a hearing to set a new fine. CNN Full story.

As of Saturday, June 28th, CNN's Rick Sanchez was reporting that authorities he contacted where reporting that they would not be appealing the Circuit Court of Appeals decision, so after 3 years Mr. Zapeta will finally get back his money.

Mr. Zapeta had already paid taxes on the money and all but $5000 will be returned according to attorney Robert Gershman. Counselor Gershman who represents Zapeta on the seized funds also helped set up a fund for Pedro Zapeta after authorities seized his money and some $15,000 was received in donations.


kyledeb said...

Tony! Great to see you blogging again. Victory for Pedro Zapeta!

janna said...

YES!! This makes my day!

Colombian Coffee said...

It makes me happy to know that the appeals process allows more just Judges to reverse unjust decisions. I hope Mr. Zapeta is happy in Guatemala