ALEXANDRIA, Va. – An alleged human rights abuser who participated in persecution during the Red Terror period in Ethiopia was arrested today for allegedly having fraudulently obtained United States citizenship.
“Negussie sought to outrun his past by allegedly employing deception to fraudulently obtain United States citizenship,” said U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger. “This indictment reflects the government’s dedication to investigating and prosecuting criminal immigration cases, including those involving alleged human rights violators.”
According to allegations in the indictment, Mergia Negussie Habteyes, 58, a naturalized United States citizen residing in Alexandria, told a series of lies to United States immigration authorities in the course of obtaining authority to enter the United States as a refugee, subsequently obtaining lawful permanent-resident status, and ultimately obtaining U.S. citizenship. Specifically, the indictment asserts that, when he applied for naturalization in the United States, Negussie falsely stated that he never persecuted persons because of their political opinion, and he failed to disclose that he had committed a crime or offense for which he was not arrested. In fact, according to the indictment, Negussie served as a civilian interrogator in the Higher 3 prison in Ethiopia in the late 1970s, during a period known as the Red Terror. In that role, Negussie is alleged to have participated in the persecution, through brutality, of individuals imprisoned because of their political opinion. Additionally, Negussie falsely stated that he never gave false or misleading information to any U.S. government official while applying for any immigration benefit and that he never lied to U.S. immigration authorities to gain entry or admission into the United States and to obtain immigration benefits.
“Negussie allegedly concealed his role in persecuting Ethiopian prisoners for their political opinions during that country’s so-called Red Terror period when he applied for, and ultimately obtained, U.S. citizenship,” said Brian A. Benczkowski, Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “As this case demonstrates, the Justice Department will not allow the United States to become a safe haven for human rights violators, and we will continue to aggressively prosecute those who seek to exploit our immigration system through fraud and deceit.”
“The persecution of individuals for their political opinion and expression violates one of our most basic and foundational tenets as a nation,” said Patrick J. Lechleitner, Special Agent in Charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Washington, D.C. “We will not allow human rights violators to use lies, fraud and deceit to exploit our laws.”
Negussie is charged with unlawful procurement of naturalization. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. Conviction would also result in automatic revocation of Negussie’s United States citizenship as well as likely removal to Ethiopia. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
The case is being investigated by HSI with the support of the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center (HRVWCC). Established in 2009, the HRVWCC furthers the government’s efforts to identify, locate and prosecute human rights abusers in the United States, including those who are known or suspected to have participated in persecution, war crimes, genocide, torture, extrajudicial killings, female genital mutilation and the use or recruitment of child soldiers. The HRVWCC leverages the expertise of a select group of agents, lawyers, intelligence and research specialists, historians and analysts who direct the government’s broader enforcement efforts against these offenders. The HRVWCC is comprised of ICE HSI’s Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Unit, ICE’s Human Rights Law Section, FBI’s International Human Rights Unit and DOJ’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section (HRSP).
G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Brian A. Benczkowski, Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, and Patrick J. Lechleitner, Special Agent in Charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Washington, D.C., made the announcement. Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexander Blanchard and Trial Attorney Jamie Perry of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section (HRSP) are prosecuting the case.
Members of the public who have information about former human rights violators in the United States are urged to contact U.S. law enforcement through the Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section at email@example.com or toll-free at 1-800-813-5863, or through the HSI tip line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or its online tip form at www.ice.gov/exec/forms/hsi-tips/tips.asp.
A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information is located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1:18-cr-350.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.
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