Visa scam victims still wondering
Leiva, 28, is going back to his wife and son concerned about what will happen with the $2,300 he claims he paid former Vail Resorts’ employees Marina and Juvenal Puerto for his U.S. visa.
Leiva, who leaves the United States at the end of the month, earned $9 an hour working as a housekeeper for Vail Associates. Most of his paycheck went home to help his family, leaving him with $400 a month to live.
“My sister loaned me the money and I want to pay her back,” Leiva says. “I’m worried that we’re leaving the country and that the case stays open and nothing happens.”
Leiva is among seven Hondurans who filed a criminal complaint against Marina Puerto, 52, and her husband, Juvenal, 62. The Avon couple are accused of charging fellow-immigrants for their visas – visas Vail Resorts, the company that hired the workers, processes at its own expense.
The Puertos, who face theft and conspiracy charges, insist they are innocent. They are each out on $15,000 bail, and Eagle County Court is holding their passports.
Their next appearance is May 22 in District Court.
In the past month, Terri O’Connor, Juvenal Puerto’s attorney, and James Fahrenholtz, Marina Puerto’s attorney, have been trying to reach a plea agreement with the District Attorney’s Office. But O’Connor said Friday no agreement has been reached.
“May 22 is our first day in District Court, so it’s not that crucial,” he said. “We probably will not accept a plea agreement at this point.”
If a plea bargain is not reached, the case will go to trial.
The District Attorney’s office has offered to 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. O’Connor said he and Fahrenholtz don’t want to go with that because they don’t believe the Puertos are guilty.
Evidence, however, includes three audiocasette tapes Levy Contreras, 50, a Honduran national who says he paid the Puertos $5,500 for visas for his wife, son and niece, turned in to police.
“One day, Juvenal told me, “the visas are not free anymore – they cost something,'” Contreras said.
“They (the Puertos) can say what they want, but what’s true is that he (Juvenal Puerto) told me last year that they (the Puertos) had to have all the money paid before the list with the names of the visas approved went to the consulate in Honduras.”
Carlos Miranda, 30, said he paid the Puertos, too, for a visa for his brother, Oscar.
“Carlos paid them because he thought the company (Vail Resorts) charged for the visas,” Oscar Miranda said. “But then we realized that none of the other foreigners had paid.”
On Jan. 4, Contreras, who at that point said he had questions about the Puertos’ activities, turned the tapes in to Vail Resorts.
“They (VR officials) told me they were going to talk to Marina to tell her to return us the money,” Contreras said. “But she told them she didn’t know what they were talking about that, they should talk to her lawyers.
“Nobody could believe what Marina was doing,” he added.
The Puertos stopped working for the company soon after Vail Resorts contacted law enforcement.
Leiva and Miranda said they are pleased with the way Vail Resorts has handled the case.
“They felt very embarrassed and they apologize,” Oscar Miranda said.
“Also, our jobs were supposed to end on April 13, but because of our problem (Vail Resorts) extended them until May 15.”
If there’s a disposition for restitution, the court could order the payment be instant or spread over a period of time, O’Connor said.
“I expect to get back at least what I paid them,” Contreras said. “I lost already 28 percent interest a year in my deposit in the bank in Honduras.” Veronica Whitney can be reached at (970) 949-0555 ext. 454 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.