Immigrant advocate wants to move his trial out of Arizona
PHOENIX (AP) — A longtime advocate for immigrants wants a judge to move his upcoming trial on federal tax charges out of Arizona because of publicity about the case and his past efforts in speaking up for people who were in the country illegally.
A hearing is scheduled Thursday to consider the request by Elias Bermudez, who more than a decade ago led protests against immigration laws and then-Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s crackdowns on immigrants.
Bermudez is known for kneeling down in front of Arpaio at a 2006 protest to ask the lawman to stop arresting immigrants, a request the sheriff denied.
Bermudez, who owned a business that helped immigrants prepare immigration and tax documents, is accused of preparing income tax documents from 2010 through 2012 that falsely added dependents to his clients’ returns to maximize refundable credits.
Federal authorities say his clients, at the direction of Bermudez, listed people who lived in Mexico as dependents. They say they recorded Bermudez, while meeting with a confidential informant and two undercover agents, telling agents they should include false dependents on their returns to reduce their tax liability and improperly claim a refund.
Bermudez has pleaded not guilty to the charges and is scheduled for trial on Sept. 5.
Earlier this month, his attorney Kristina Matthews filed a request to move the location of the trial, saying Bermudez can’t receive a fair trial because he is a controversial figure whose advocacy efforts and criminal case have been exhaustively covered by reporters.
She cited four news stories that reported the indictment filed in October against Bermudez and other stories on his past efforts and legal troubles.
Prosecutor Andrew C. Stone said in court papers that the request should be denied because Bermudez can’t show that Phoenix has been saturated with inflammatory publicity about the current case.
Bermudez has previously worked as a talk show host for a Spanish-language radio show in Phoenix and served as a leader of the group Immigrants Without Borders and as vice mayor of San Luis, Arizona.
He was sentenced to serve 18 months in federal prison in 1996 for a money laundering conviction.
In addition, a county judge in Arizona ordered him to stop offering immigration services after clients alleged they paid for services they never received.
Bermudez moved to New Mexico in 2012 but his business was shut down by the attorney general because he wasn’t authorized to provide immigration consulting services.
Follow Jacques Billeaud at twitter.com/jacquesbilleaud. His work can be found at https://bit.ly/2GGWEPO.