BY LINDA BENTLEY | AUGUST 18, 2010
U.S. Attorney’s Office grandstands over old refugee fraud cases
‘Failure to report their military service was no oversight … It was a crafty abuse of this nation’s refugee policy’
An exhumed mass grave in Potocari, Bosnia and Herzegovina, is where key events in the July 1995 Srebrenica Massacre unfolded and which remains the largest number of civilian casualties on European soil since WWII.
Courtesy Photo/ADAM JONES/ADAMJONES.FREESERVERS.COM
PHOENIX – On Aug. 17, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona issued a press release headlined, “Former Bosnian Serb Soldiers Sentenced for Refugee Fraud in Phoenix.”
The sub-head stated, “16 former soldiers lied about military service during Bosnian war.”
The press release went on to state, “More than a dozen persons who served in the Republic of Srpska Army (VRS) during the civil war in Bosnia and Herzegovina have been sentenced in Phoenix for lying about their military service. When they applied for refugee status in the United States following the end of the war, they failed to disclose they had been soldiers in the VRS.
“A federal investigation into refugee fraud resulted in the arrest of 16 former soldiers living in the Phoenix area.”
Dennis K. Burke, U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona, stated, “These defendants lied to obtain lawful status in the United States. Failure to report their military service was oversight by any stretch of the imagination. It was a crafty abuse of this nation’s refugee policy.”
Five of the 16 defendants were deported to Bosnia and Herzegovina and, upon their arrival, three of them, Mladen Blagojevich, Zdravko Bozic and Goran Bencun, were arrested and brought before the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a domestic court that includes international judges and prosecutors.
Blagojevich was convicted of crimes against humanity and was sentenced to seven years in prison. Bozic was acquitted and Bencun was released from custody without being charged.
The other two deportees, Nenad Dragic and Rajko Ninkovic, were not arrested.
According to the press release, the remaining 11 defendants, Milenko Gujic, Rajko Hercegovac, Risto Hercegovac, Momcilo Krstic, Radenko Spiric, Vitomir Spiric, Nikola Stankovic, Savo Tojcic, Dragan Ubiparipovic, Radenko Ubiparipovic and Cvijan Vidacovic, pled guilty to felony charges of knowingly making a false statement.
Briefly explaining about the Bosnian war, which began in 1992 with the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the press release stated, “During the Bosnian war, in July 1995, VTS units attacked and occupied the town of Srebrenica, which had been declared a U.N. safe area. In the weeks after the fall of Srebrenica, around 8,000 men and boys who had been living in the town were killed or taken prisoner. In 2004, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia located at The Hague, ruled the massacre constituted a crime of genocide.”
The press release also quoted Matt Allen, Special Agent in charge of ICE Homeland Security Investigations in Arizona, as saying, “We will not allow those who abuse the system by fraudulently gaining legal status in the United States to avoid the consequences of their actions. These men purposefully deceived immigration officials of the fact that they were assigned to units involved in the Srebrenica Massacre, and knew that the authorities were investigating this atrocity.”
It all sounded pretty serious, so Sonoran News took a look at the various individual cases, beginning with Blagojevic, only to find he pled guilty in 2006 and was deported four years ago.
Bozic entered into a plea agreement in 2005, Tojcic in 2007, Krstic in 2007, Gujic in 2007, and so on. The most recent adjudication appeared to be Radenko Ubiparipovic, who entered into a plea agreement in February 2009.
It also appeared, despite all the tough talk about not allowing those who abuse the system to avoid the consequences of their actions, that’s exactly what happened in most cases.
Other than the five who were deported years ago, the other 11 former Bosnian Serb soldiers, who gained refugee status by making fraudulent statements on their immigration application, were never ordered deported.
The court ordered those defendants committed to the custody of the Bureau of Prisons for a term of “time served,” which ranged from as few as three days to 281 days in pretrial custody, two to three years of supervised release, an assessment of $100, and most of the fines waved due to their inability to pay.
Sonoran News placed a call to Wyn Hornbuckle, Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Phoenix to ask what was current about this case that would prompt a press release and to question why the defendants weren’t deported.
Hornbuckle indicated this was not the only call he’d received about the press release and those issues.
He indicated the U.S. Attorney’s Office had just wrapped up the last of these cases “a couple of weeks ago” and that was why they had issued a press release. Hornbuckle said he would follow up by finding out more information about these cases and would get back to me.
In an e-mail later that day, Hornbuckle provided the following information:
• The five judicial deportations happened in 2005 and 2006.
• 11 other defendants were sentenced to probation and/or time served.
• Most were sentenced in the summer of 2007.
• The more recent ones are:
• Vitomir Spiric, Aug 9, 2010
• Radenko Ubiparipovic, Feb 23, 2009
• Dragan Ubiparipovic, Oct 20,2008
• Spiric is not yet in removal proceedings but will be. The remaining 10 who were not judicially deported are in removal proceedings and an immigration judge will ultimately determine whether they are deported.