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Fight Against Immigrant Smuggling Follows Money Trail
In addition to the Western Union suit, Goddard's fight against immigrant smugglers, who are sometimes called coyotes, has also prompted a federal lawsuit by a group of Western Union customers who allege that the attorney general's office seized their money and never returned it.
According to the suit, Goddard's investigators did not tell the senders that their transfers had been blocked (a charge Goddard did not dispute) and handed money over to recipients only after they had proved that the transfers were not being used for illegal activity. "So much for innocent until proven guilty," said Matthew Piers, the lead attorney in the case.
"We have law enforcement run wild down there," Piers said. "We support interdiction of money for coyotes, that's an activity well worth stopping. But the warrants in Arizona are so broad as to be ridiculous."
Goddard's prosecutors said 91 percent of the people whose money was seized were involved in either drug or immigrant smuggling. Joshua Hoyt, executive director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, which interviewed more than 400 of Western Union's customers to help prepare the case, said that while the "clear majority" of the money senders were illegal immigrants, only a small fraction were involved in felonies. "This is a legal equivalent of a drive-by shooting," he said. "People were sending money to their relatives to buy medicine and food."
Goddard said he has proof that immigrant smugglers were continuing operations in Arizona and using Western Union branches in Sonora to stash their cash. According to an attorney general's office affidavit, a suspect, who had been picking up his cash in Arizona, received $270,000 within two months from a small Western Union stand in Sonora, another garnered $136,000, a third $113,000.
"It is obvious to us that they've just moved the cash aspect of their business out of state," he said, "but the smuggling operations remain in Arizona."
Goddard's tactics were also controversial because of federal concerns that his office was overreaching. When ICE Director Julie Myers visited Arizona in late 2005, Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) suggested that they hold a joint news conference in support of the warrants. Myers declined, officials from both the state and federal governments said. And ICE pulled out of the state's financial crimes task force.
But in recent months, relations between ICE and the Arizona state government have improved. A new special-agent-in-charge, Alonzo Peña, arrived from Texas after Napolitano pressured the federal government to transfer his predecessor, law enforcement officials said. ICE will soon rejoin the state's financial crimes task force.
In an interview, Peña said ICE is considering using the surveillance warrants as a tactic to fight immigrant smuggling; that way at least law enforcement could avoid Western Union's argument that Arizona was overreaching.
"I am not really concerned about what happened in the past," Peña said, "We just want to get in and participate . . . as long as it's legal and can be introduced in court."