Published in The Lexington Herald-Leader [KY]
Landlord found not guilty of harboring immigrants
Jun. 27--A jury rejected the federal government's unprecedented prosecution Friday of a Lexington landlord who rented to illegal immigrants, finding him not guilty of 62 criminal counts.
William Jerry Hadden, 69, wept after a judge read the verdict in U.S. District Court in Lexington. Hadden had rented to 60 undocumented immigrants at Cross Keys and Woodridge apartments, actions that prosecutors argued violated federal harboring laws.
The case is thought to be the first time that the government has prosecuted a landlord merely for renting to illegal immigrants.
"I'm just relieved," Hadden said after the trial. "I am relieved for all the landlords in the country. This jury saved a lot of landlords from a lot of worries."
Hadden's attorney, Russ Baldani, said the verdict sent a message.
"These are not illegals; they're human beings," Baldani said. "You can't solve immigration problems by choking off basic necessities for people that are here."
The controversial case was decried by the ACLU and advocates for immigrants, and was watched closely by landlords and immigration attorneys.
Immigration attorneys attending a conference in Vancouver eagerly awaited Friday's verdict, said Lexington lawyer Charles Baesler, who was at the conference.
"The prosecution was essentially seeking to impose on every American business the obligation to verify the immigration status of every customer," Baesler said. "It was far beyond anything the government has attempted elsewhere in America. It's a significant defeat of the prosecution, but it's also a great victory for hard-working business owners who are trying to do the right thing while making a decent living."
At issue was whether Hadden had violated federal harboring and inducing laws by renting to illegal immigrants. The laws, written in 1986, were intended to fight human traffickers and rogue businesses that exploit undocumented workers.
The evidence presented in the four-day trial showed that Hadden had strong reason to suspect that his tenants were illegal immigrants. Many of them presented nothing more than Mexican identification cards when they applied for apartments.
But defense attorney Tucker Richardson said the government presented no evidence that Hadden was trying to hide the immigrants from authorities, an element that the government had to prove to win its case. Like any apartment tenants, the immigrants could come and go as they pleased.
"If they're going to use a 1986 statute, and all of a sudden in 2008 say we're going to use this to say you can't rent to undocumented aliens, then they need to let the landlords and apartment owners of America know that," Richardson said. "This is a country built on fairness, and this wasn't a fair prosecution."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Frances E. Catrone-Malone declined to say why Hadden was prosecuted, even though it's no secret that other landlords around town rent to illegal immigrants.
Catrone-Malone said the federal government will continue to prosecute landlords whenever there is enough evidence.
Hadden had his own theory for why he was prosecuted.
"I am old, and I am broke," Hadden said. "I am an easy person to go after."
Advocates for immigrants hailed the verdict.
Freddie Peralta, president of the Kentucky Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said he thinks the federal government was trying to make an example out of Jerry Hadden.
The case was also targeting undocumented workers, Peralta said.
"The intent of this case was to make life more difficult for these people," he said.
Hadden was charged with two counts of conspiracy, 24 counts of harboring illegal immigrants, 24 counts of encouraging illegal immigrants to remain in the country, five counts of money laundering and five counts of conducting illegal transactions to affect interstate commerce.
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Hadden and his business, JH-2 Investments, were charged with the same counts. It was also found not guilty.
Charges against Hadden's son, Jamey, are still pending. Jamie Hadden lives and works in Vietnam and has not been served with the indictment.
Jerry Hadden and his son bought the apartments in 1998. Over time, Hadden ditched the management company he had hired and eased many of his screening requirements, dropping required credit reports altogether. Hadden said he was just trying to cut costs, but prosecutors said he deliberately marketed to illegal immigrants.
Hadden himself admitted that his screening was lax. He testified that all he cared about was whether prospective tenants had a job and could afford the rent.
Tenants testified that Hadden had nothing to do with them entering the country. And he didn't try to find them jobs or hide them, they said
In a pivotal ruling a week before the trial, U.S. District Judge Karl S. Forester said that Hadden could use his ignorance of the law as a defense.
Richardson said the defense had a two-pronged strategy: to show that Hadden did nothing to harbor or conceal illegal immigrants; and if he did, to show that Hadden didn't know his actions were against the law.
The government's interpretation of the law was expansive. If it could be applied to landlords, could it be applied to restaurants that translate menus into Spanish? Richardson asked.
"Once again, where does it end?" Richardson said. "Is Kroger and Dominos next?"
Copyright (c) 2008, The Lexington Herald-Leader, Ky.
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- Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.