APRIL 14, 2009
More than 1,300 illegal immigrants who used fake or stolen Social Security numbers to file taxes will face no consequences because their privacy rights were violated by the local authorities who busted them.
A judge ruled this week that the search of a north central Colorado tax preparer suspected of having an unusually large illegal alien clientele was illegal. That means that at least 1,300 illegal immigrants who filed tax returns with fake or stolen Social Security numbers will not be charged.
The sheriff and district attorney in Weld County caught the violators by searching thousands of federal income tax returns at the Greeley office of a tax preparer that caters to illegal aliens. Dozens have been arrested and charged with identity theft or criminal impersonation but this week’s ruling will likely set them free.
In his decision, Larimer County District Judge James Hiatt said the search was illegal because it violated the privacy rights of the tax preparer’s clients. Therefore, the judge said, those records can’t be used in the county’s criminal identify theft investigation. He gave Weld County authorities seven days to return or destroy all evidence seized in the case
The Weld County Sheriff’s Department had obtained a search warrant from a separate judge before going through 5,000 returns from the tax preparer, Amalia Cerrillo. However, Judge Hiatt said the warrant was improper because it lacked particularity as to what would be seized and failed to identify probable cause as to a specific criminal act.
The county launched the identity theft operation last October after a local man got arrested for stealing a Social Security number. The man told detectives he had obtained a tax identification number and filed federal returns with the help of the Greeley tax preparer whose records were eventually searched.
When authorities made public the large number of illegal aliens who stole identities to file taxes, immigration advocates immediately challenged the operation in court. In December a separate Weld County judge (James Hartmann) ruled in their favor by halting the investigation because federal law protects the confidentiality of income tax returns.
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