NH woman gets 10 years in Rwanda fraud case
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A federal judge on Monday sentenced a New Hampshire woman to the maximum 10 years in prison for lying about her role in the 1994 Rwanda genocide, saying the United States cannot be a haven for those who slaughter out of hatred and ignorance.
Rwanda native Beatrice Munyenyezi declined her right to address the court after U.S. District Judge Steven McAuliffe imposed her sentence.
Munyenyezi, 43, was convicted in February of entering the United States and securing citizenship by lying about her role as a commander of one of the notorious roadblocks where Tutsis were singled out for slaughter. She also denied affiliation with any political party, despite her husband’s leadership role in the extremist Hutu militia party.
“She was not a mere spectator,” McAuliffe said. “I find this defendant was actively involved, actively participated, in the mass killing of men, women and children simply because they were Tutsis.”
McAuliffe acknowledged she has led a crime-free and productive life since her arrival in New Hampshire in 1998 but said it was a life lived under false pretenses.
There was no visible initial reaction from Munyenyezi or her daughters during sentencing. But midway through the hearing, Munyenyezi started weeping.
“It’s very, very traumatic,” defense attorney David Ruoff said afterward. “She’s been anxious about this. Regardless of what happened in Rwanda in 1994, it’s traumatic for any person to face their kids under these circumstances.”
McAuliffe said she effectively stole a citizenship slot away from a deserving refugee, possibly one who also had daughters and was a victim of violence and persecution. Munyenyezi took the oath of citizenship a decade ago in the very same courthouse where she was sentenced. McAuliffe stripped her of that citizenship when she was convicted.
Her lawyers say they will appeal her conviction.
Federal prosecutors had sought the maximum prison sentence, saying she’s as guilty as if she wielded the machete herself.
Hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in a campaign of mass murder orchestrated by Hutu extremists during the genocide.
Munyenyezi’s lawyers say they will appeal her conviction to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals — a move that is expected to delay deportation proceedings.
Ruoff said he too had considered asking for the maximum 10-year term, to keep Munyenyezi in the United States longer.
“She stays here, she has access to her children,” he said.
Outside the courthouse, her daughters declined to comment.
Munyenyezi’s brother, Jean-Marie Higiro, said he’s offended that McAuliffe seemed to paint all Hutus in Rwanda in 1994 with a broad brush of guilt.
Once Munyenyezi serves her prison sentence, she could be deported to Rwanda — a fate her lawyers said would be tantamount to a death sentence.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Aloke Chakravarty said prosecutors knew the case would be a challenge, and that no similar case linked to the Rwanda genocide had ever been prosecuted in the United States. “But tolerating genocide was not an option,” he said.
Through two trials and the three years since her indictment in 2010, Munyenyezi has remained silent. She did not testify and declined an Associated Press request for an interview in the wake of her first trial ending a mistrial in 2012.
She has spent most of those three years in custody and apart from her three daughters, ages 18-20.
Her lawyers portrayed her as the victim of lies by Rwandan witnesses who never before implicated her through nearly two decades of investigations and trials — even when testifying against her husband and his mother before the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda.
Prosecutors maintained that she was a liar who “gamed” the immigration system to fraudulently obtain the “golden ticket” of citizenship. She swore on immigration and naturalization forms that she persecuted no one, had no affiliation with any political party and even cast herself as a victim of the genocide by saying family members “disappeared.”
Munyenyezi fled to Nairobi, Kenya with her young daughter in July 1994, in the waning days of the genocide. Her twins were born there four months later. She entered the United States as a refugee and settled in Manchester with the aid of refugee relief agencies.
Before long, she had a $13-an-hour job working for the city’s housing authority. Her children were enrolled in Catholic school and she attended college and earned an associate’s degree. She financed a comfortable lifestyle through mortgages, loans and credit cards — only to file for bankruptcy in 2008 and have about $400,000 in debt discharged.
Munyenyezi’s husband, Arsene Shalom Ntahobali and his mother were convicted of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes of violence and are serving life sentences. Both were deemed to be high-ranking members of the Hutu militia party that orchestrated the savage attacks on Tutsis.
Munyenyezi’s sister was convicted last summer in Boston on charges of fraudulently obtaining a visa to enter the United States by lying about her own Hutu political party affiliations. Prudence Kantengwa also was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice related to her immigration court testimony. She was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison.
It is not clear where Munyenyezi will serve her sentence, but it will likely be outside New England. The federal prison for women in Connecticut is transferring its inmates elsewhere in advance of converting to a men’s prison.