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Denver man who immigrated from Ethiopia indicted for ID theft and unlawfully procuring US citizenship

Court documents reveal defendant was involved in war crimes in Ethiopia in 1970s

DENVER — A local resident, of Ethiopian descent, was arrested without incident last week by special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) for making false statements on immigration documents and identity theft. The charges relate to mass murders committed throughout Ethiopia during the late 1970s.

U.S. Attorney John Walsh, District of Colorado, and HSI Denver Special Agent in Charge Kumar Kibble announced the arrest of John Doe, aka Habteab Berhe Temanu, aka Habteab B Temanu, aka "TUFA," aka Kefelegn Alemu, aka Kefelegn Alemu Worku, who is about 68 years old.

Doe appeared in court Aug. 30 for a detention hearing as well as arraignment, but that hearing was continued until Sept. 4.

The defendant was indicted by a federal grand jury in Denver Aug. 20. He was arrested Aug. 24. Doe made his initial appearance Aug. 27 where he was advised of the charges pending against him.

According to the indictment, as well as other court documents, including an affidavit in support of a search warrant of the residence of Doe, the defendant knowingly possessed and used, and attempted to possess and use, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person, Habteab Berhe Temanu. The indictment further charges that he knew that other person to be a real person when he committed the felony violation of unlawfully procuring U.S. citizenship or naturalization.

Further, between Nov. 22, 2009 and March 2, 2010, Doe made false statements in connection with his application for naturalization which was submitted in November 2009, and he re-affirmed under penalty of perjury in March 2010, including falsely identifying himself as Habteab Berhe Temanu. He also falsely representing that he was the father of five children; and he falsely responded "no" to the question: "Have you ever persecuted (either directly or indirectly) any person because of race, religion, national origin, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion?"

In May 2011, HSI received information from an informant who was a naturalized U.S. citizen, originally a native of Ethiopia, that he had recently encountered a person in Denver who he recognized as Kefelegn Alemu Worku. He claimed that Worku was a prison guard during a period in the late 1970s in Ethiopia known as the "Red Terror."

In the late 1970s in Ethiopia, Mengistu Haile Mariam assumed unofficial control of the Provisional Military Administrative Committee also known as the Dergue. The Dergue was a committee of nearly 120 military officers that established a Marxist regime and abolished Ethiopia's constitution. They arrested the former emperor and members of the imperial government for alleged crimes against the Ethiopian people. Mengistu seized full control in 1977 which unleashed a two-year campaign known as the Red Terror.

During the Red Terror, tens of thousands of Ethiopian men, women and children – who were suspected of being members or supporters of the anti-Dergue group – were arrested, tortured and summarily executed. One prison that held, tortured and killed individuals was known as "Kebele 15" or "Kefetegna 15," which in English roughly translates as "Higher 15." This prison housed about 1,500 prisoners who had been imprisoned due to their political opinions and affiliations. During the Red Terror, families of those who were killed or missing were often required to pay the government for the bullet used to kill their family member. Historical accounts indicate that a minimum of 10,000 people were killed in the city of Addis Ababa alone in 1977, with comparable victims likely in the provinces in 1977 and 1978.

The witness explained that he had become a political prisoner in Ethiopia in 1978 when he was arrested and sent to the Higher 15. He witnessed Worku torture fellow prisoners and learned that other prisoners were being executed at the hands of prison guards, including Worku. The informant managed to escape the prison in September 1979. Two additional Ethiopian refugees, who are now naturalized U.S. citizens, also identified the defendant as Worku and recounted how Worku had personally participated in beating and torturing them at the same prison during the same time period.

HSI special agents, using information obtained from the informant, charge that Doe is actually Kefelegn Alemu Worku, and Worku was using the identity of Habteab B Temanu. Immigration records confirmed that Doe, using Temanu's identity, came to the United States in July 2004 as a refugee. He lived in Denver until his indictment this month.

"Homeland Security Investigations will not allow international human rights violator fugitives to seek safe haven in the United States," said Kibble. "In addition to investigating these fugitives, HSI also works to strip the U.S. citizenship from these individuals who fraudulently obtained it."

"The United States' commitment to human dignity and freedom across the globe requires us to police our own borders against international criminals who use fraud and deceit to hide in our country," said U.S. Attorney John Walsh. "This case demonstrates our commitment as a nation to upholding the rule of law by identifying and prosecuting human rights violators."

If convicted of unlawful procurement of citizenship or naturalization, Doe faces not more than 10 years in federal prison, and a fine of up to $250,000. If convicted of aggravated identity theft, he faces an additional two-year mandatory consecutive sentence over and above the sentence imposed for the underlying felony, as well as up to a $250,000 fine.

This case is being investigated by HSI Denver with the assistance of HSI's Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center.

The defendant is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Brenda Taylor and ICE Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Lillian Alves.

The charges contained in the indictment are allegations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

The Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center investigates human rights violators who try to evade justice by seeking shelter in the United States, including those who have participated in war crimes and acts of genocide, torture and extrajudicial killings. These individuals may use fraudulent identities to enter the country and attempt to blend into communities in the United States. Members of the public who have information about foreign nationals suspected of engaging in human rights abuses or war crimes are urged to call the toll-free HSI tip line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or to complete its online tip form. Both are staffed around the clock by investigators. To learn more about the assistance available to victims in these cases, the public should contact ICE's confidential victim-witness toll-free number at 1-866-872-4973. Tips may be provided anonymously.

Since fiscal year 2004, ICE has arrested more than 200 individuals for human rights-related violations under various criminal and/or immigration statutes. During that same period, ICE obtained deportation orders and physically removed more than 400 known or suspected human rights violators from the United States. Currently, HSI has more than 180 active investigations and ICE is pursuing more than 1,900 leads and removal cases involving suspected human rights violators from nearly 95 different countries.


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Last Reviewed/Updated: 06/10/2015