By JAY WEAVER
April 4, 2008
A fired immigration agent pleaded guilty Thursday to having sex with a
Jamaican woman at his home while he was transferring her from a detention
facility in Miami-Dade to another center in Broward.
Wilfredo Vazquez, 35, of Tamarac, also pleaded guilty to ''placing the woman
in fear'' during the sexual encounter.
Vazquez cut a plea deal on the eve of trial this week, avoiding prosecution
on the more serious charge of aggravated sexual assault. That's the
equivalent of sexual battery, or rape, in the state criminal court.
The plea agreement with the U.S. attorney's office entailed dismissing two
of the counts and recommending a little over seven years in prison to U.S.
District Judge William Dimitrouleas. Had Vazquez gone to trial and been
convicted for sexual assault, he could have faced about 30 years in prison.
''He now understands and regrets that this woman was in fear during the
sexual act,'' said Vazquez's attorney, Joel DeFabio. ``As the government
stated in court, he never threatened her, struck her or used any physical
force against her.
``He feels very remorseful for the victim and his family.''
Vazquez, a decorated Iraq War veteran who had served in the Air Force for 16
years, was fired by Immigration and Customs Enforcement after the woman
alleged she was raped at his home in September. He had worked as an ICE
agent for less than a year.
Vazquez was transporting her from the Krome Detention Center in West
Miami-Dade to the Broward Transitional Center in Pompano Beach on Sept. 21.
She was being moved after serving a few months at the Miami Federal
Detention Center in connection with a false claim to U.S. citizenship.
Immigration officials planned to put her in deportation proceedings. She has
lived in the United States for 12 years and has a daughter and son.
`JUSTICE ... SERVED'
The woman's immigration lawyer, who brought the case to the attention of
U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta, said the victim was relieved to put the
ordeal behind her.
''She told me that she didn't want this former officer to have the
opportunity to sexually abuse anyone else,'' said Cheryl Little, head of the
Florida Immigration Advocacy Center in Miami.
''This is not a slap on the wrist. I do believe that justice has been
served,'' Little said. ``Hopefully, this will send a serious message to
other officers who abuse detainees.''
After the victim filed her complaint, immigration authorities granted the
FIAC is helping the woman obtain a visa that could lead to her establishing
''We're certainly trying to get her a U visa because she has fully
cooperated with law-enforcement officials,'' Little said, expressing her
gratitude to prosecutors for making the case and writing a letter of
certification supporting her visa.
When federal agents initially confronted the ICE agent about the woman's
complaint, Vazquez repeatedly denied he ever stopped at his home with the
detainee, according to a Department of Homeland Security arrest affidavit.
But records from Florida's Turnpike SunPass system showed Vazquez's official
vehicle left the highway at a Commercial Boulevard ramp near his home,
according to the affidavit. The victim also described the interior of his
home and neighborhood to investigators -- along with the sexual encounter.
AN EARLIER SCANDAL
The sexual-assault prosecution was the first such case since 2000, when
Krome officials opened an investigation into sexual misconduct by guards and
officers at the facility.
At least one officer and one contract employee were convicted. The scandal
prompted immigration authorities to remove female detainees from Krome. Most
women are now housed at the Broward Transitional Center in Pompano Beach,
though some are first processed at Krome.
The Broward Sheriff's Office first opened the investigation in late
September after the victim disclosed the episode to authorities. The U.S.
attorney's office then developed the case under prosecutor Daniel Rashbaum.