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June 16, 2011Burlington, VT, United StatesHuman Smuggling/Trafficking

Fugitive who posed as lawyer following Haitian earthquake sentenced to 3 years in federal prison for alien smuggling

BURLINGTON, Vt. – A fugitive, who was captured after an international manhunt led by agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), was sentenced Wednesday to three years and one month in federal prison after pleading guilty to alien smuggling charges.

Jorge Torres, 34, was already a fugitive when he was indicted in 2003 by a federal grand jury in Burlington, Vt., on charges of conspiring to smuggle aliens from Central America into the United States through Canada in 2002. At the time of his indictment, he was living in Canada under the name "George Simard" after he absconded from federal supervised release following a 1999 bank fraud conviction.

Starting in 2003, the U.S. government sought Torres' extradition from Canada to face the alien smuggling charges. However, he could not be located.

In early 2010, Torres surfaced in the Dominican Republic posing as a lawyer representing American church workers detained in Haiti in the wake of the earthquake in that country. Torres convinced a church that he was Jorge Torres Puello, an international lawyer and president of "Puello Consulting" in the Dominican Republic.

Torres obtained a monetary retainer from the families of the detained missionaries and began representing himself to the Haitian court and international media as the attorney/spokesman for them. However, U.S. authorities recognized him as Jorge Torres when media reports showed images of the "alleged" lawyer wearing a suit and carrying a brief case.

An extradition package was prepared and sent to representatives in the Dominican Republic. Torres was arrested, detained and extradited to the United States to face the 2003 alien smuggling charges in Vermont. He pleaded guilty to the charges.

At the June 15 sentencing, U.S. District Court Judge William K. Sessions referred to Torres' lack of regard for court orders as "egregious." The court credited Torres with 20 months served because he had previously been in custody in Canada and the Dominican Republic. Torres was also sentenced to a two-year term of supervised release.

"It's surprising that Jorge Torres came out of hiding to fraudulently misrepresent himself," said Bruce M. Foucart, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in New England. "However, it's not surprising that ICE was able to positively identify this fugitive from justice. The determination to establish the true identity of the individual hiding behind fake names, presenting fraudulent identities, and violating public trust as part of this egregious activity was paramount to our mission to bring him to justice."

ICE HSI and the U.S. Marshals Service's International Investigations Branch spearheaded the two-month long joint investigation with assistance from law enforcement officials in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Canada.

The following agencies also assisted in this investigation: the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of International Affairs; the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania; the U.S. Attorney's Office for the and the District of Vermont; the Department of State; the Dominican Republic Office of the Attorney General; the Embassy of the Dominican Republic in Washington, D.C.; INTERPOL Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; and the Direccion Nacional de Control de Drogas, Dominican Republic.