ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — A Maryland defense lawyer and a man acting as his interpreter have been charged with trying to intimidate a rape victim, by raising the possibility of deportation if she testified against their client.
Attorney Christos Vasiliades was arrested when he showed up Tuesday at the Baltimore courthouse for the scheduled start of the rape trial.
A Baltimore grand jury indicted Vasiliades and interpreter Edgar Rodriguez on charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice and intimidate a victim and a witness.
Vasiliades and Rodriguez also allegedly told the woman and her husband that their client could get them $3,000 if the case got "thrown out" because they didn't show up.
"Part of it, we allege, is a good old fashioned bribe, but the threat that the witness would be deported is sadly new, and I think it arises out of the climate of fear in the immigrant community over the change in policy for deportations," Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh told The Associated Press in an interview.
According to the indictment, the attorney and interpreter called the husband to say his wife's case had become "more complicated," and the couple agreed to meet with the men. Feeling threatened after that initial meeting, they sought help from law enforcement, and authorities had them meet again, this time recording what was said.
The men told the couple that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is "looking at this case," and referred to President Donald Trump's policies as creating a hostile environment for immigrants in the United States, the indictment said.
"You know how things are with Trump's laws now; someone goes to court, and boom, they get taken away," Rodriguez is quoted as saying during the meeting.
Rodriquez added: "They're going to ask, 'you have your documents?'"
Frosh said his office wrote to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security several months ago to ask them not to pick up immigrants at courthouses, schools or hospitals.
"If crime victims feel that they're in jeopardy of being deported if they report a crime, we're going to get more crime," said Frosh, whose office worked with Baltimore prosecutors and police on this case. "And I just really give a lot of props to the victim of this crime. She was victimized twice, but had the courage to report it to law enforcement, and it makes us safer when she can do that."
Vasiliades urged the woman and her husband to take the money and then beat up his client, identified in court records as Mario Aguilar-Delossantos, rather than testify against him.
"I think you should find him and kick his ass, personally," Vasiliades told the couple, according to the indictment.
Billy Murphy, the lawyer's attorney, said in a statement that "unless and until the State proves each and every allegation to a near certitude, Mr. Vasiliades is innocent."
Joseph Murtha, an attorney for Rodriquez, said "it's too early to reach any conclusions about Mr. Rodriquez's involvement until all the information that was collected in the investigation is reviewed."