Ex-fed agent pleads guilty in sex-assault case

A fired immigration agent pleaded guilty Thursday to having sex with a Jamaican woman at his home while he was transferring her from a detention facility in Miami-Dade to another center in Broward.

Wilfredo Vazquez, 35, of Tamarac, also pleaded guilty to ”placing the woman in fear” during the sexual encounter.

Vazquez cut a plea deal on the eve of trial this week, avoiding prosecution on the more serious charge of aggravated sexual assault. That’s the equivalent of sexual battery, or rape, in the state criminal court.

The plea agreement with the U.S. attorney’s office entailed dismissing two of the counts and recommending a little over seven years in prison to U.S. District Judge William Dimitrouleas. Had Vazquez gone to trial and been convicted for sexual assault, he could have faced about 30 years in prison.

”He now understands and regrets that this woman was in fear during the sexual act,” said Vazquez’s attorney, Joel DeFabio. “As the government stated in court, he never threatened her, struck her or used any physical force against her.

“He feels very remorseful for the victim and his family.”

Vazquez, a decorated Iraq war veteran who had served in the Air Force for 16 years, was fired by Immigration and Customs Enforcement after the woman alleged she was raped at his home in September. He had worked as an ICE agent for less than a year.

Vazquez was transporting her from the Krome Detention Center in West Miami-Dade to the Broward Transitional Center in Pompano Beach on Sept. 21, the date of the incident.

She was being moved after serving a few months at the Miami Federal Detention Center in connection with a false claim to U.S. citizenship. Immigration officials planned to put her in deportation proceedings after having lived in the United States for 12 years. She has a daughter and son.

The woman’s immigration lawyer, who brought the case to the attention of U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta, said the victim was prepared to testify at trial but was relieved to put the ordeal behind her.

”She told me that she didn’t want this former officer to have the opportunity to sexually abuse anyone else,” said Miami attorney Cheryl Little, head of the Florida Immigration Advocacy Center.

”This is not a slap on the wrist. I do believe that justice has been served,” Little said. “Hopefully, this will send a serious message to other officers who abuse detainees — that they will pay a very high price for this type of misconduct.”

After the victim filed her complaint, immigration authorities granted the woman parole.

Little said her organization is helping the woman obtain a visa that could lead to her establishing legal residency.

”We’re certainly trying to get her a U visa because she has fully cooperated with law enforcement officials,” Little said, expressing her gratitude to prosecutors for making the case and writing a letter of certification supporting her visa.

When federal agents initially confronted the ICE agent about the woman’s complaint, Vazquez repeatedly denied he ever stopped at his home with the detainee, according to a Department of Homeland Security arrest affidavit.

But records from Florida’s Turnpike SunPass system showed Vazquez’s official vehicle left the highway at a Commercial Boulevard ramp near his home, according to the affidavit. The victim also described the interior of his home and neighborhood to investigators — along with the sexual encounter.

The sexual assault prosecution was the first such case since 2000, when officials at the Krome detention center opened an investigation into sexual misconduct by guards and officers at the west Miami-Dade detention facility.

At least one officer and one contract employee were convicted. The scandal prompted immigration authorities to remove female detainees from Krome. Most women are now housed at the Broward Transitional Center in Pompano Beach, though some are first processed at Krome.

The Broward Sheriff’s Office first opened the investigation in late September after the victim disclosed the episode to authorities. The U.S. attorney’s office then developed the case under prosecutor Daniel Rashbaum.

source: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/breaking_dade/story/481729.html

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