On July 3, 2018, a defendant in Collingdale, Pennsylvania was found guilty by a federal jury of immigration fraud and perjury charges, following a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) led investigation, with assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Jucontee Thomas Woewiyu, 72, lied on his application for U.S. citizenship by denying that he advocated the overthrow of any government by force or violence and by denying that he ever persecuted any person because of membership in a social group or their political opinion.
Woewiyu is a founder and the former Minister of Defense, chief spokesperson, and negotiator for the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), which was an armed rebel group led by Charles Taylor and committed to removing the Samuel Doe government forcibly from power in Liberia in the late 1980s and 1990s.
(Prosecutors talk about the conviction of Thomas Woewiyu a former spokesperson and defense minister for Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) and the highest-ranking official to be found guilty of crimes tied to the numerous documented atrocities that occurred during Liberia’s first civil war, outside Federal Court in Philadelphia. Courtesy of Philly .com and YouTube. Posted on Juy 3, 2018.)
On numerous occasions over the years, Woewiyu publicly confirmed his prominent position in the NPFL and advocated the overthrow of the Doe government by force or violence.
During the defendant’s tenure, the NPFL conducted a particularly heinous and brutal military campaign, characterized by torture, rape, forced sexual slavery, conscription of child soldiers, and murder.
The jury heard evidence from almost twenty Liberians who lived through Liberia’s notoriously brutal first civil war, from 1989 through 1995.
(Learn More. In Liberia, AFL government forces led by the now dead Samuel Doe, fought a vicious civil war against rebel forces led by Charles Taylor. Other West African countries sent in a peace-keeping force, Ecomog, partly funded by the US. However, instead of monitoring a cease-fire Ecomog became a major combatant against Taylor’s forces. In a conflict resembling a blood feud the fighters are often young orphans whose fathers have been shot by the opposing side. A film by Mark Stucke and Carlos Mavroleon. Courtesy of Journeyman Pictures and YouTube. Posted on Feb 16, 2011.)
At trial, multiple individuals testified about being forced to become child soldiers under Woewiyu and the NPFL.
Additionally, the jury heard testimony about NPFL soldiers cutting off victims’ body parts in front of Woewiyu, while others described checkpoints with skulls and severed heads on stakes (some still dripping with blood) and intestines for ropes, as well as the ethnically based massacre of a village at the hands of the NPFL.
“Today’s verdict clearly demonstrates that this nation will never be a safe haven for human rights violators and war criminals,” said Marlon V. Miller, Special Agent in Charge of HSI Philadelphia.
“HSI will not allow our country to be a place where individuals seeking to distance themselves from their pasts can hide or evade detection.”
Since approximately Jan. 13, 1972, Woewiyu has had Lawful Permanent Resident status in the United States.
On Jan. 23, 2006, Woewiyu applied for U.S. citizenship by submitting a Form N-400.
On that form, and in his immigration in-person interview, Woewiyu swore and certified under the penalty of perjury that, among other things, he had never advocated (either directly or indirectly) the overthrow of any government by force or violence, and that he had never persecuted (either directly or indirectly) any person because of race, religion, national origin, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
After a three-week trial, the jury began its deliberations on Monday, July 2.
The jury returned a verdict on July 3, finding the defendant guilty of two counts of fraudulently attempting to obtain citizenship, two counts of fraud in immigration documents, two counts of false statements in relation to naturalization, and five counts of perjury.
“The defendant’s tenure as Minister of Defense for the NPFL was marked by almost unimaginable violence and brutality,” said U.S. Attorney McSwain.
“He attempted to evade all accountability for his gruesome and horrific crimes by fraudulently obtaining U.S. citizenship.”
“Due to the hard work and perseverance of our prosecutors and law enforcement partners, he has nowhere left to hide.”
“Finally, this defendant has been brought to justice. I hope the conviction today can provide some comfort, however belated, to all of his victims and their families.”
Since 2003, ICE has arrested more than 410 individuals for human rights-related violations of the law under various criminal and/or immigration statutes.
During that same period, ICE obtained deportation orders against and physically removed 908 known or suspected human rights violators from the United States.
Additionally, ICE has facilitated the departure of an additional 122 such individuals from the United States.
Currently, HSI has more than 135 active investigations into suspected human rights violators and is pursuing more than 1,750 leads and removals cases involving suspected human rights violators from 95 different countries.
Since 2003, the HRVWCC has issued more than 75,000 lookouts for individuals from more than 110 countries and stopped over 260 human rights violators and war crimes suspects from entering the U.S.
ICE is committed to rooting out known or suspected human rights violators who seek a safe haven in the United States.
The Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center (HRVWCC) began as a pilot project in April 2008.
Underscoring a whole-of-government approach to bringing these criminals to justice, the Center co-locates a select group of special agents, attorneys, criminal research specialists and historians.
It also brings together resources and expertise from various DHS components and other departmental agencies, to include the FBI’s International Human Rights Unit and the Department of State, to work collaboratively on human rights violators and war crimes investigations.
With bona fide successes supporting this crucial concept, the Center was formally recognized as a permanent ICE entity in October 2009.
The HRVWCC uses a variety of sources and methods to identify human rights abusers living in the United States or attempting to enter the United States.
The Center works with international and national tribunals, foreign law enforcement partners, and INTERPOL to develop lead information.
(Learn More. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) operates the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Unit (HRVWCU) within the National Security Investigations Division (NSID). Preceded by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, HSI has more than 30 years of experience in successfully investigating human rights violators. The unit conducts investigations focused on human rights violations in an effort to prevent the United States from becoming a safe haven to those individuals who engage in the commission of war crimes, genocide, torture and other forms of serious human rights abuses from conflicts around the globe. When foreign war crimes suspects, persecutors and human rights abusers are identified within U.S. borders, the unit utilizes its powers and authorities to the fullest extent of the law to investigate, prosecute and, whenever possible, remove any such offenders from the United States. Courtesy of ICE .gov and YouTube. Posted on Nov 16, 2016.)
Non-governmental organizations and academics play a critical role in assisting ICE in locating and supporting witnesses, and in contextualizing conflicts so that judges and juries can understand the role the alleged perpetrators played in human rights violations.
ICE’s Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center investigates human rights violators who try to evade justice by seeking shelter in the United States, including those who are known or suspected to have participated in persecution, war crimes, genocide, torture, extrajudicial killings, and the use or recruitment of child soldiers.
These individuals may use fraudulent identities or falsified records to enter the country and attempt to blend into communities in the United States.
The HRVWCC was established in 2009 to further ICE’s efforts to identify, locate and prosecute human rights abusers in the United States, including those who are known or suspected to have participated in persecution, war crimes, genocide, torture, extrajudicial killings, female genital mutilation and the use or recruitment of child soldiers.
To prevent the admission of foreign war crimes suspects, persecutors and human rights abusers into the United States.
The unit has four important missions:
- To identify and prosecute individuals who have been involved and/or responsible for the commission of human rights abuses across the globe.
- To remove, whenever possible, those offenders who are located in the United States.
- To oversee the development of programs in response to the former President’s Presidential Study Directive-10, the prevention of mass atrocities.