Visa-scam trial postponed
The trial of Marina Puerto, who faces theft and conspiracy charges, was scheduled for today and Friday, but it has been continued upon a request by the District Attorney’s Office.
“We requested more time so we can continue our investigation,” said Brenda Parks of the District Attorney’s Office. “Most of the victims speak Spanish and we need a translator to interview them.”
Separate jury trial dates in Eagle County District Court were set for Marina Puerto, 52, and her husband, Juvenal Puerto, 62, of Avon, who face theft and conspiracy charges. The Puertos are out on $15,000 bail each and Eagle County Court is holding on to their passports. The couple, who used to work for Vail Resorts, is accused of charging a group of Hondurans about $2,000 each for work visas – documents 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.
The couple insist they are innocent. No plea agreement could be reached between the prosecution and the Puerto’s attorneys.
“I objected to the continuance of the trial and also to amending the charges, another request of the District Attorney’s Office,” said Jim Fahrenholtz, Marina Puerto’s attorney.
Parks said the she is requesting the addition of six more victims to the complaint. If approved by the judge, the new victims, however, will be added to the existing charge.
“Adding more victims will not change the sentence,” Parks said. “It means she would have to pay more restitution. We could have charged each individual in separate charges, but we didn’t do it at this late date.”
If convicted on the theft charge, a class-III felony, the Puertos could get 4 to 16 years in jail.
“They had since February to investigate the case,” Fahrenholtz said.
“You’d think they would have investigated the case before it was filed. Normally, you investigate something before you charge someone. We were ready to go. It seems pretty incredible that you can bring such serious charges against somebody and nine days before trial say you have new victims.”
When the case was filed it didn’t include all the victims named in the police reports, Parks said.
“Unfortunately, we were unable to investigate because we are short of staff and we have a lot of violent crime cases,” Parks said.
A judge will decide whether to amend the charges on Nov. 6. A date for a new trial has not yet been set.
The Honduran victims, who work for Vail Resorts and have filed complaints against the Puertos are: Nevia Isabel Interiano, Patricia Aguilar, Carlos Miranda, Obed Leiva Welchez and Levy Contreras-Cordova.
Contreras-Cordova presented to Vail Resorts and to police audio-cassettes, which may be crucial evidence in the case. According to the affidavit of probable cause, transcripts of the tapes presented by Contreras-Cordova contain conversations that apparently implicate the Puertos in the alleged visa scam.
Contreras-Cordova said in July 2001 he started paying the Puertos $5,500 for visas for his wife, son and niece to come to work to Colorado.
Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.