Sunday, May 06, 2007
Marijuana peddler gets 18 months
Judge finds deportation isn't punishment enough
Defense attorney Stephen Johnson posed that question at a hearing before U.S. District Judge Tom Varlan to decide the fate of 28-year-old Juan Lino-Gomez on Thursday.
Johnson argued that Varlan should just immediately free Lino-Gomez, who has spent 10 months in jail awaiting resolution of his case.
"Once he is out of custody there is an immigration hold on him, so he will go into immigration custody," Johnson said.
Johnson also contended that Lino-Gomez could spend several months, maybe even years, awaiting formal deportation.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mike Winck balked at the notion that Lino-Gomez should get a break.
"He was able to make money in this country even though he was illegally here," Winck said. "He could have taken lawful steps to become legal."
Winck argued that it is hardly fair for the illegal immigrant to benefit from his status while his American co-conspirators pay the full price for their alleged crimes.
Varlan sided with Winck, ordering Lino-Gomez to serve an 18-month prison term.
This isn't the first time Lino-Gomez's status as an illegal immigrant has come into play in the case. Johnson spent months battling to free Lino-Gomez pending trial, arguing that his status as an illegal immigrant wasn't cause enough to keep him locked up. Johnson took that argument all the way to a federal appeals court, where he lost.
Lino-Gomez then pleaded guilty, striking a deal that offered him a penalty range far lower than what he could have faced.
Johnson told Varlan at Thursday's hearing that Lino-Gomez was a family man who encountered a rough financial situation, so he turned to pushing pot.
"Mr. Lino-Gomez and his family were under financial hardship, needing money for a hernia surgery for himself, needing money for an eye surgery for his youngest baby," Johnson said. "That's not an excuse for what he did. It does offer an explanation."
Winck found the tale a bit dubious.
"When Mr. Lino-Gomez was arrested, he had $5,497 on him, and he hadn't even been paid yet (for the drugs)," Winck said.
Lino-Gomez told Varlan that he made a mistake. "I'm paying the price for that mistake because I am living away from my family," he said.
Jamie Satterfield may be reached at 865-342-6308.