TSA lapse helps gain not guilty verdicts


POSTED: Thursday, December 31, 2009

Defense attorneys for two Oahu farm managers charged with employment fraud asked how their clients are supposed to spot counterfeit ID cards for illegal immigrants when Transportation Security Authority workers could not.

A federal court jury apparently agreed with them.

After a three-week trial, the jury deliberated less than four hours in finding David Kato and Glen Kelley McCaig not guilty on 17 counts of employment fraud in connection with hiring seven illegal immigrant workers at Larry Jefts Farms on Oahu.

All seven employees, facing deportation back to Mexico, testified they used fake permanent resident cards to enter airports in California to travel to Hawaii. They also said they used the cards to gain employment at the farms.

The backs of the cards contained numerous spelling and typographical errors.

The errors include “;Deparment,”; “;Departament,”; “;Adminstration,”; “;identifield,”; “;punishible,”; “;ins't,”; “;Homel and Security”; and “;United State of America.”;

The front of one card said it was newly issued by the Department of Homeland Security while the back of the card said it had been issued by the Department of Justice.

And not a single card presented as evidence in the trial had a hologram on its face like a real permanent resident card.

U.S. District Judge David Ezra, who presided over the trial, said he found it disturbing that nearly 100 immigrants were able to go through U.S. airports with what he calls “;extremely suspect documents.”;

The government said Jefts Farms and its affiliates hired 111 workers from California between August 2006 and March 2008. Ninety-six of them presented permanent resident cards to qualify for employment. Eighty-six of the cards were counterfeit.

The jury decided there was no way Kato and McCaig could have known the cards were not authentic, said El Paso, Texas, lawyer Jim Darnell, who represented McCaig.

“;The cards were obviously counterfeit but they cleared TSA without any interruption,”; said Joseph “;Sib”; Abraham Jr., another El Paso lawyer, who represented Kato.

Ezra said the jury may have found Kato and McCaig not guilty of the charges but that doesn't mean they are innocent.

“;At the very least they were seriously negligent,”; Ezra said.

Kato and McCaig declined comment. Farm owner Jefts did not respond to a request for comment.

Ezra attributed the verdicts to the competence of the defense lawyers, the questionable credibility of the seven illegal immigrants who have already pleaded guilty to criminal charges, and the burden the TSA clearances presented the prosecution.

Federal prosecutor Tracy Hino agreed that counterfeit cards having gotten past the TSA presented a problem in this case and could for future prosecutions.