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Immigrant Witness Says U.S. Reneged On Protection

Aug 29, 2011
Originally published on August 30, 2011 2:39 pm

Ten years ago, an Albanian immigrant agreed to help the Justice Department build a case against a mobster accused of human smuggling. In exchange, he says, federal prosecutors promised him a green card and protection for his family. But the mobster fled the country, and the informant, Ed Demiraj, says the U.S. government reneged on its commitment — with violent results.

All these years later, Demiraj tells NPR he and his family still are living in fear of an organized crime ring whose members threatened his life and left him for dead. Demiraj says a man approached him in a coffee shop in South Texas last week with an ominous warning to watch out. Then the windows in his house got broken.

"I put my life in danger, to protect your country, to protect the United States from those people," Demiraj says. "Why they doing to me like that?"

His story begins shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, in Texas, where Demiraj heard his boss, Bill Bedini, had been arrested on human-smuggling charges.

Demiraj, who wasn't in the U.S. legally, says he turned himself in and told a federal prosecutor in Texas that he wanted to help. But he had an important question once the talks got under way.

"And I ask her, what protection can you give to my family, I do have a family, those people are very [dangerous], very, and she said, we know that," Demiraj says.

Demiraj says the prosecutor agreed to give him a green card and provide security for his wife and children. But nothing was in writing with the Justice Department. Then Bedini, the alleged mobster, left the country after getting released on bail. And any deal that Demiraj may have had was off.

In custody for months at an immigration center near Laredo, Texas, Demiraj was deported. When he went back home to Albania to live with his parents there, he says, the mobster showed up one day, shot him and left him for dead. Neighbors took Demiraj to a hospital and then a safe house.

Eventually, he made his way back to Texas, jump-started his company, which paints and remodels houses, and reunited with his family. But immigration authorities denied asylum applications by his wife and his son, who is now 19. He says that put his family in jeopardy all over again.

"If they going there for sure, for sure, that happened to me and by God, thanks God I am alive," he says. "But it's for sure if they go back to Albania they are going to get kidnapped, they are going to be killed."

Joshua Rosenkranz, an attorney for the family at the Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe law firm in New York, is asking the courts to keep the family together in the U.S. The Demirajs' two younger children, a boy age 10 and a girl age 5, were born in the U.S. and are American citizens. Rozenkranz is also asking the Justice Department to keep them safe here. The answer so far, he says, has been no.

"So when the government says we cannot provide security, what it really means is, the Demirajs of the world are not a priority," Rozenkranz says. "When they're no longer useful to us, they're expendable."

Demiraj's lawyers have rallied former Justice Department officials to support their case. One of them is former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh.

"You give your word you ought to keep it — it's as old as the playground," Thornburgh says, adding that there's a bigger principle at stake.

"If the Department of Justice doesn't stick to the terms of a deal made with a prospective witness and jettisons that witness, that word is going to travel very fast in the community at large, and they're going to have a great deal of difficulty getting people to cooperate, and that's what law enforcement depends upon," Thornburgh says.

The Justice Department's civil division, which is handling the immigration side of the case, says it doesn't have the power to grant security protection. A spokeswoman referred calls to the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of Texas, who declined to comment.

Marina Garcia Marmolejo, the federal prosecutor who Demiraj says made those promises 10 years ago, is now a nominee for a federal judgeship. She didn't return a call for comment.

Rosenkranz says there's no time to waste. "I've been handling high-profile cases for over 25 years, and I don't think I've ever felt as fearful for the life of a client as I am now," he says.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, Host:

Time might be running out for an Albania immigrant who's trying to keep his family together and in the United States. Ed Demiraj says federal prosecutors gave him a promise. He would get a green card and also protection for his family after he agreed to help the Justice Department build a case against a mobster. But the mobster has fled the country and now the informant says the government reneged on its commitment with violent results. NPR's Carrie Johnson reports.

CARRIE JOHNSON: Ed Demiraj says he and his family are living in fear of a mobster who threatened his life and left him for dead. Only last week, Demiraj says a man approached him in a coffee shop in South Texas and told him to watch out. Then the windows in his house got broken.

ED DEMIRAJ: I put my life in danger, to protect the United States from those people. Why are they doing to me like that?

JOHNSON: His story begins 10 years ago in Texas where Demiraj heard his boss, Bill Bedini, had been arrested on human smuggling charges. Demiraj, who wasn't in the U.S. legally, says he turned himself in and told a federal prosecutor in Texas that he wanted to help. He had information because he had handled some money for Bedini, and that had got him involved in the case. But Demiraj says he had an important question once the talks got underway.

DEMIRAJ: And I ask her, what protection can you give to me, ma'am, to my family, I do have a family, and those people are very dangerous. And she said, oh, we know that.

JOHNSON: Demiraj got deported. When he went back home to Albania to live with his parents there, he says the mobster shot him and left him for dead. Neighbors took Demiraj to a hospital and then a safe house. And eventually he made his way back to Texas, jump-started his company which paints and remodels houses, and reunited with his family. Immigration authorities agreed not to send him back to Albania but they denied asylum applications by his wife and his son. He says that put his family in jeopardy all over again.

DEMIRAJ: That happened to me. Thanks God I am alive. For sure, when they get back to Albania, they are going to get kidnapped or they are going to be killed.

JOHNSON: Joshua Rosenkranz is a lawyer for the family. He's asking the courts to keep the family together in the U.S., and asking the Justice Department to keep them safe here. The answer so far, he says, is no.

JOSHUA ROSENKRANZ: So when the government says we cannot provide security, what it really means is, when they're no longer useful to us, the Demirajs of the world are expendable.

JOHNSON: Demiraj's lawyers have rallied former Justice Department officials to support their case. One of them is former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh.

DICK THORNBURGH: Give your word, you ought to keep it, it's as old as the playground.

JOHNSON: Thornburgh says there's a bigger principle at stake.

THORNBURGH: If, uh, the Department of Justice doesn't stick to the terms of a deal made with a prospective witness and jettison that witness, that word is going to travel very fast, and they're going to have a great deal of difficulty getting people to cooperate. And that's what law enforcement depends upon.

JOHNSON: The Justice Department didn't want to talk on tape about the case. Lawyers in the civil division, which is handling the asylum issues, say they don't have the authority to grant security protection. They referred calls to the U.S. attorney in Southern Texas, who declined to comment about the old case and Demiraj's role as a material witness. The federal prosecutor who Demiraj says made those promises 10 years ago, didn't return a call for comment. Rosenkranz, a lawyer for the family, says there's no time to waste.

ROSENKRANZ: I've been handling high profile cases for over 25 years and I don't think I've ever felt as fearful for the life of a client as I am right now.

JOHNSON: Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.

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GREENE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.