When Carlos Ornelas, owner of Colorado Spring’s largest Mexican marketplace, was dragged from his car by four thugs last November, beaten, pistol-whipped and threatened with death unless his family paid an $80,000 ransom, he couldn’t have know that one of his accosters was an illegal alien who was supposed to be in Mexico, having been finally deported by the Colorado courts after his fourth known crime.
Fredy Lopez-Gamez, 26, is still at large following the kidnap, although his brother and two other conspirators were arrested and most of the money was recovered by police. His case, critics say, point to ineffectiveness of the courts in dealing with illegal-alien criminals who have manipulated the U.S. justice system into a revolving door leading from U.S. jails to Mexico and back to U.S. streets.
Lopez-Gomez, according to court records, was arrested in June on charges of selling $300 worth of cocaine to a police informant. In 2003, he had been charged with kidnapping his estranged wife and intimidating a witness, for which he served 90 days.
While awaiting trial for the drug charge, Lopez-Gomez was freed on $10,000 bail and turned over to U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Denver detention center. In early September, he was transferred to El Paso, Texas, and from there, deported to Mexico. Ten weeks later, he was back in Colorado Springs, masterminding the kidnap of a wealthy Colorado businessman.
“Obviously, deporting is not the answer,” said El Paso County (Colorado) Sheriff Terry Maketa, “because they come back and commit a kidnapping and assault with a deadly weapon.”
Lopez-Gamez’s drug case was dismissed three days after the kidnapping because police and prosecutors did not know he had come back across the border.
“These guys are thrilled,” Bobby Brown, the bail bondsman who posted Lopez-Gamez’s $10,000 bond, told the Colorado Springs Gazette. “They say, ‘I’m out of the jail in 48 hours. I’ll be on a Greyhound to Mexico in no time. He voluntarily deported himself this time because he knows he’s safe there. He knows how easy it was to get out of the United States and how hard it is to get him back to the U.S.”
If Lopez-Gamez does return, he faces six counts of kidnapping, assault and weapons charges, as well as re-filed drug charges.
Colorado’s courts and jails are already straining from the increase in the state’s illegal immigrant population and related crime. In El Paso County, illegals typically account for close to 10 percent of the inmate population, said Makata.
“They’re pretty open about it,” Maketa, whose deputies inquire about immigration status when criminal arrests are made, said. “They tell us they don’t have any papers.”
An “ICE hold” is placed on illegals by the sheriff’s office – a measure that allows them to be kept 48 hours after serving their sentence so federal immigration officials can pick them up for deportation. Illegal immigrants, however, are entitled to bail and that, say critics, creates a system where crimes go unpunished and criminals are returned to the streets, albeit with a temporary detour through Mexico.
“It gives an advantage to the illegals, because we don’t have a way to hold them accountable for their crimes,” said Lisa Kirkman, spokeswoman for the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office. She notes that some U.S. officials saw deportation as a means of saving on the cost of imprisonment and overloading the courts but, after 15 years it’s become apparent the policy only makes matters worse.
Two Colorado state legislators have sponsored a bill to require judges to end the current “don’t ask” policy and consider immigration status when setting bail.
“What do we have to do, wait three or four times before we say, ‘OK, now you’re going to jail’?” State Rep. Joe Stengel asked.
Brown, noting a newly implemented policy put in place following the Lopez-Gamez case that informs bail bondsmen when an immigration hold has been filed on an inmate, said he will no longer be posting bail for illegals.