U.S. citizen almost deported to Russia | VailDaily.com

U.S. citizen almost deported to Russia

Paul ShockleyGrand Junction CorrespondentVail, CO Colorado
Thomas Warziniak

RAND JUNCTION, Colorado Thomas Warziniak is angry.He slams a photo on a table showing four men wearing black T-shirts and pants prison garb for those detained by federal immigration authorities.Can you find the Russian? asked Warziniak, 40.Born in Minnesota, raised in the southern United States, Warziniaks drifter and drug-addled life already cost him his freedom. Drug-fueled stories and the U.S. immigration system almost cost him his country.Warziniak is in Grand Junction after federal immigration authorities released him last week.He was held just over a month under threat of deportation to Russia and released only after family members produced a birth certificate and the intervention of a U.S. senator.Somebody dropped the ball here, Warziniak said in an interview earlier this week. Just because I had a drug addiction doesnt mean Im a bad person.

Warziniak used heroin for more than two decades.Arrested several times under several names, including Thomas Warz, Warziniak was busted by Grand Junction police Sept. 26, 2006, after shooting methamphetamine into his arm at a Grand Junction hotel.The lies started when officers tried to figure out who he was.I asked Mickaa (Warziniak gave an officer the false name of Joey Mickaa) for his social security number, and he told me he was an illegal from Russia and that he did not know for sure how to say the numbers (in English), an arrest affidavit reads.The skeptical officer noted his English was just fine moments earlier.Warziniak was jailed.In a deal with prosecutors resolving two cases, he pleaded guilty on Jan. 2, 2007, to a minor criminal impersonation charge related to another arrest. Warziniak was sentenced to 18 months in prison.Warziniak continued with tall tales about his past. According to a McClatchy-Tribune news service report on Warziniaks story, probation officials concluded in a report before his sentencing hearing that he was probably mentally ill.

Katherine Sanguinetti, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Corrections, said staff responsible for screening new arrivals into the system at Denvers Diagnostic & Reception facility heard more wild stories from Warziniak on his past.Warziniak told his screener he was born in Stalingrad, Russia, and his parents died when he was young, and he insisted he swam ashore to America from a Soviet submarine, Sanguinetti said. Sometime before that, he rose to the rank of colonel in the Red Army and served in Afghanistan where he narrowly cheated death, having been shot or bombed several times, he said.There were clues it might be drug-fueled fantasy: Warziniaks thick and slow Southern accent is further slowed by years of drug abuse. He speaks no Russian.After that interview, the Department of Corrections notified the U.S Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement that they had a foreign-born prisoner.We followed our procedures, Sanguinetti said. When we have someone claiming to be a foreign-born prisoner, its up to them (ICE) to do their homework.While federal officials were on notice, prison records are unclear about what drug or mental health treatment options were afforded Warziniak. Once inside the walls officials seemed convinced of his past. And Warziniak, at least through last spring, wasnt saying anything to persuade them otherwise.He still identified himself as Warz. A caseworker wrote in an April progress report that ICE was considering sending Warziniak to Russia. Warziniak said he wanted to be released in Grand Junction.He needs to find a vocation, get a GED and stay away from the drugs, the caseworker wrote in summary.Warziniak on Monday claimed to remember mentioning something about a Russian past only to officers who arrested him in September 2006 perhaps others shortly after. Drugs caused me to do all sorts of things, he said.

When Warziniak was paroled last December, he landed at an immigration detention center in Florence, Ariz.Warziniaks story found the ear of a Washington Post reporter who tracked down his three half-sisters, including Missy Dolle of North Carolina.She hadnt seen or heard from her brother in two decades.Our father put him out when we were young and told him he wasnt wanted, Dolle said. His lifestyle was not ours and at times he probably didnt know he had a family or what he was doing. Dolle and her husband, Keith, a retired sheriff in Mecklenburg County, N.C., flew to Arizona for her brothers immigration hearing and also contacted the office of Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.The day before Warziniaks hearing, Dolle managed to get a copy of her brothers birth certificate: Thomas Allen Warziniak was born Sept. 1, 1967, in Rochester, Minn. He was released Jan. 24 just over a month spent in federal custody.Warziniak, now homeless in Grand Junction, aims to have his state parole transferred to Alabama, where a job and his family wait.After everything hes been through, youd think theyd want to give him a little break, Dolle said.Ernestine Hobbs, a spokeswoman for ICE, told the McClatchy-Tribune news service agents to try to follow up on individual claims of U.S. citizenship as fast as they can.We have to be careful we dont release the wrong person, Hobbs said.

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