Guilty plea kills green card
Vail, CO Colorado
ASPEN, Colorado ” A Salvadoran man told a judge Monday that a plea deal in a 2005 cocaine case robbed him of his green card.
Isabel Orellano-Santos said he had “100 percent” trust in his attorney, Peter Rachesky, who had skillfully brokered a plea deal that kept Santos out of custody after he was found with more than nine grams of cocaine in 2004.
But despite having completed probation in February, Santos asked Judge James Boyd of the 9th District Court in Aspen to have his guilty plea withdrawn. Rachesky did not tell him that the agreement would mean the loss of his temporary protection status and green card, Santos said.
Santos, who is in his mid-20s, came to the Aspen in 2000. Two years later he applied and earned temporary protection status following devastating earthquakes in his native El Salvador.
He worked at the Hotel Jerome and the Sundeck Restaurant on Aspen Mountain, but when Santos recently tried to re-register for a green card he was denied, he said. He believes the denial sprung from his guilty plea to cocaine possession.
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In 2004, Aspen police officers found Santos with five bindles of cocaine while he was riding in the passenger’s seat of a vehicle that crashed into a parked car on Monarch Street.
Santos faced felony possession charges as well as possible charges of distribution, but Rachesky brokered a deal to the lesser charge and no jail time, ensuring that Santos would not be deported immediately on an immigration hold.
Santos was sentenced to three years of probation.
Rachesky, who was subpoenaed as a witness in Monday’s hearing, said he knew that Santos had temporary protection status, but said he informed his client that any agreement or guilty plea could affect his immigration standing.
But Santos’ attorney, Ted Hess, quoted Rachesky in transcripts of the 2005 hearings saying that his client was an illegal alien and that Rachesky did not know about Santos’ status.
“He was not like the run-of-the-mill ” if you will ” illegal,” Hess said. “If your client’s on temporary protected status, you better know about temporary protected status.” Hess said Santos would have taken the case to trial if he knew if meant the loss of his green card.
Deputy District Attorney Tony Hershey said that Santos’ immigration status was in fact temporary and that Hess failed to provide any evidence that Santos was denied a renewed green card because of the plea deal.
Hershey also pointed to the written agreement and said Rachesky had clearly informed his client that his immigration status could change.
“Mr. Rachesky did an admirable job,” Hershey said, adding that Santos should have thought more about his immigration status when he broke the law.
Judge Boyd took the matter under advisement and said he’d issue his ruling before July 21.