Sheriff: ICE move may botch smuggling case
Four illegal immigrants who were witnesses in a human smuggling investigation in San Miguel County were expected to be deported by federal authorities in a move puzzling local law enforcement.
“It’s certainly frustrating, considering the work that was involved on our end,” said Jennifer Dinsmore, San Miguel County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman.
Juan Denys Hernandez Varenez, 31, of Cuba, was being held Wednesday at the San Miguel County Jail on $15,000 bond on suspicion of four counts of human smuggling, all class 3 felonies.
“(The Sheriff’s Department) will attempt to prosecute the smuggler for violation of Colorado state law. However, the witnesses who could testify against him will have been deported, so the success of that prosecution is doubtful,” Dinsmore said.
U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was contacted Tuesday afternoon and asked to take custody of Varenez, along with four men he was accused of smuggling, the Sheriff’s Department said in a news release.
“They (ICE) initially refused, advising to simply write the driver a traffic ticket and then release everyone, but after multiple phone calls ICE finally did respond,” the release said. “They determined they must take the aliens for deportation, but refused to prosecute the smuggler.”
Dinsmore said the men Varenez allegedly smuggled — Eric Barahon and Gavelo Hernandez, both of Honduras, and Juan Delgato and Fernando Torres, both of Mexico — were turned over to federal authorities Tuesday night.
ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok said Wednesday he is researching facts outlined by the Sheriff’s Department, but he declined extensive comment.
“ICE routinely works with local law enforcement agencies to identify and arrest human smugglers and smuggled aliens who are discovered in traffic stops and vehicle-crash sites,” Rusnok said in a statement.
Sheriff’s Department deputies were called around 10:20 a.m. Monday to respond to a rollover traffic accident on Colorado Highway 141 in western San Miguel County. A passerby reported finding a wrecked vehicle with its engine still running, but nobody around it, the Sheriff’s Department said.
A motorist reported seeing a “dark-skinned” man walking on the highway south. The man appeared injured and was holding his hand over an eye, authorities said. The motorist offered the man a ride, which was refused.
Deputies found a driver’s license at the crash scene for Sineade Patricia Rodriguez, 20, of Grand Junction.
An extensive search of the area around the crash site, including use of an airplane, was suspended around 6 p.m.
Rodriguez was spotted Tuesday morning, accompanied by Varenez, at a restaurant in Dry Creek Basin, and both were arrested. Hunters around 8:30 a.m. Tuesday also reported seeing several men hiding in a culvert in the same area.
It was about 40 degrees outside, lightly raining during the morning, a Sheriff’s Department news release said. The soles on four men’s shoes appeared consistent with snow prints observed near the crash site, headed into rugged terrain off Colorado 141.