Visa scam case moves toward trial
The case of a Honduran couple accused of bilking fellow-immigrants in an alleged work-visa scam appears to be going to trial, Michael Goodbee, attorney of the Fifth Judicial District, said Monday .
At a hearing Monday, Eagle County Judge Terri Diem bound the case of Marina Puerto, 52, and her husband, Juvenal Puerto, 62, to district court.
The Puertos, of Avon, who face theft and conspiracy charges, are out on $15,000 bail each and Eagle County Court is holding on to their passports.
“We’re going to district court because we haven’t been able to resolve the case yet,” said Terry O’Connor, Juvenal Puerto’s attorney. “We’re still in negotiating stages with the office of the district attorney. But it looks like the case most likely will go to trial.”
In the past month, O’Connor and James Fahrenholtz, Marina Puerto’s attorney, have been trying to reach a plea agreement with the Eagle County District Attorney’s office.
“They haven’t made an offer which is acceptable yet,” O’Connor said.
The office of the District Attorney has offered to just keep the conspiracy charge, a class-V felony, which carries one to three years in prison. If the Puertos were convicted on the theft charge, a class-III felony, they could get between 4 and 16 years in prison. If the Puertos plead guilty or if they are convicted, however, they could be placed on probation and avoid going to jail, O’Connor said.
“We (defense attorneys) don’t want to go with that because we don’t believe they’re guilty,” O’Connor said.
Goodbee, however said there is relevant evidence against the Puertos.
“This is a case I would feel comfortable presenting it to a jury,” he said.
The Puertos now are scheduled to appear in District Court on May 22. By then, a plea bargain could be reached. The case could be set to trial, however, if they plea not guilty, O’Connor said.
The couple, who used to work for Vail Resorts, is accused of charging a group of Hondurans about $2,000 each for work visas that the company processes at its own expense.
The Puertos stopped working for the company on Jan. 4 soon after Vail Resorts contacted law enforcement and started an internal investigation sparked when several Honduran employees brought up allegations against them.