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Opening Statements Begin in Sanctuary Trial

November 16, 1985

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) _ Sanctuary workers accused of conspiring to smuggle aliens were led by four ″chief exective officers″ among the 11 defendants, the prosecutor told jurors Friday.

The defendants had ″agreement on one fact - that they (aliens) should never be exposed to any government officials, particularly immigration officials,″ prosecutor Donald M. Reno Jr. said in his opening statement.

U.S. District Judge Earl Carroll denied several defense motions seeking a mistrial. The defense objected to several statements by Reno, including his reference to a ″Nogales connection″ for smuggling and a statement that the testimony by some defendants would have to be translated from Spanish.

The defendants claim the Central Americans brought into the United States were refugees from political oppression, but the prosecution maintains the aliens were merely seeking better jobs. Carroll has yet to rule on a defense claim that the defendants were victims of selective prosecution because others who encourage aliens to enter the country, including farmers who use their labor, have not been prosecuted.

Reno, a special assistant U.S. attorney, described four defendants as ″the chief executive officers″ of a conspiracy which he said began before March 1984. The four, he said, were the Rev. John M. Fife III, James A. Corbett, Philip Willis-Conger, all three of Tucson, and Sister Darlene Nicgorski of Phoenix.

He said a second group of defendants - including Peggy Hutchison of Tucson, Wendy LeWin of Phoenix and Nena MacDonald of Lubbock, Texas - transported the aliens after they were brought into the United States.

A third group - the Rev. Ramon Dagoberto Quinones and Maria del Socorro Pardo de Aguilar, both of Nogales, Mexico, and the Rev. Anthony Clark and Mary K. Doan Espinoza, both of Nogales, Ariz. - smuggled the aliens into the United States, he said.

Fife’s South Side Presbyterian Church in Tucson was used for harboring aliens, as were Ms. Aguilar’s home and Quinones’ church in Nogales, Mexico, Reno said. The smuggled aliens eventually were sent to cities including Los Angeles, Seattle, Philadelphia and Albany, N.Y., he said.

Reno said the conspiracy was initiated by Fife and Corbett. Reno referred to Willis-Conger, director of the Tucson Ecumenical Council’s Task Force on Central America, as the ″nuts-and-bolts organizer that put this conspiracy together and kept it coordinated.″

He described Nicgorski as ″somewhat of a travel agent,″ arranging transportation for many aliens.

Reno said his principal witness would be Jesus Cruz, a Mexican native who has been a government informant since 1979. The prosecutor mentioned that Cruz testified in a Florida case in which the defendants were convicted. Defense lawyer William Walker asked for a mistrial, saying the mention of the conviction might boost Cruz’s credibility as a witness.

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