Authorities say an attorney threatened a Spanish-speaking woman with deportation if she testified that his client raped her.
Christos Vasiliades, a Baltimore defense attorney representing Mario Aguilar-Delossantos in an ongoing rape case, was charged with obstruction of justice and witness intimidation on Tuesday. Vasiliades pleaded not guilty to the charges on Wednesday.
Vasiliades and his colleague, Edgar Ivan Rodriguez allegedly warned the couple that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents would likely be at the trial and suggested there was a “high risk” they could be deported if they testified. Vasiliades said his client was “very sorry,” and could pay them if they didn’t show up to court.
Rodriguez's attorney, Joseph Murtha, contends that it's too early to determine his client's level of involvement. "Until all of the facts are considered, including the belief that he acted solely as a translator, it is unfair to conclude that he was a co-conspirator intentionally engaged in the alleged criminal activity," Murtha told The Daily Beast in a statement.
Vasiliades' attorney did not respond to requests for comment.
During a second meeting on May 18, Vasiliades allegedly demanded that everyone leave their cell phones in the lobby before entering his office, but the woman recorded their conversation on a hidden device.
“You know how things are with Trump’s laws now,” Rodriguez told the couple. “Someone goes to the court, and boom, they get taken away. They’re going to ask you, ‘You have your documents?’”
“Then everybody’s fucked,” Vasiliades added.
Vasiliades said not testifying was the best way for the couple to avoid deportation. Aguilar would pay them $3,000 to keep quiet. Instead of testifying, the couple would wait outside the courthouse with Rodriguez—if the case got “thrown out,” Rodriguez would hand over the cash. Then the couple could take matters into their own hands, Vasiliades said.
“He’s an asshole, I think you should find him and kick his ass, personally,” Vasiliades told the couple. “If you want to do that, that’s fine. Three thousand dollars, and then find him and kick his ass.”
“I did my job,” he added. “I did very good, and I can go home and go to sleep sleep, okay, and then you get something, and then you find him outside, brother, and you fuck him up, that’s it.”
In the months since President Donald Trump has taken office, ICE agents have increasingly detained immigrants at courthouses.
ICE officers arrested a transgender woman in an El Paso courthouse in February after she attended a hearing to receive a protective order against an abusive ex-boyfriend. The woman had a lengthy criminal record and had previously been deported, putting her on ICE’s radar. However, her attorney says it was likely her ex-boyfriend had tipped ICE off to her location the day she was arrested, and advocates worried her story would dissuade other immigrants from reporting crimes against them.
In Houston, reports of sexual assault by Latino residents dropped 43 percent in the first three months of 2017, compared to last year, NPR reported. A similar pattern is emerging in Los Angeles: the city’s police chief said in March that reports of sexual assault and domestic violence have plummeted in the city’s Latino neighborhoods amid immigrants’ fears that reporting crimes against them will lead to their own deportation.
"What we've created is a chilling effect that we're already starting to see the beginning of," Houston police chief Art Acevedo told NPR. "They're afraid that we're more interested as a society in deporting them than we are in bringing justice to the victims of crime."
Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Department of Homeland Security John Kelly said in March that ICE would continue arresting immigrants in courthouses, despite local officials’ objections. Sessions and Kelly claimed that courthouse arrest were particularly important in so-called “sanctuary cities,” where local laws “designed to specifically prohibit or hinder ICE from enforcing immigration law” have made it more difficult to apprehend immigrants.
Baltimore was added to DHS’s ongoing “name and shame” list of sanctuary cities in March, which named cities that didn’t comply with ICE detainers, or requests by the agency to detain immigrants for an additional 48 hours so they could be picked up by immigration officers. The list was suspended a month later.