DENVER — An Ethiopian torture suspect has been charged with identity theft and making false statements on U.S. immigration documents.
Federal agents arrested Kefelegn Alemu Worku, 68, in Denver, saying he tortured political prisoners in Ethiopia during the late 1970s. He is charged with identity theft and making false statements on immigration documents, including denying ever having persecuted anyone.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado says the case began to develop in May of 2011 with a tip from a naturalized citizen who was originally a native of Ethiopia. The tipster said he had encountered Worku in Denver and recognized him as a former prison guard during a period of Ethiopian history known as the “Red Terror.”
The two-year Red Terror period began in 1977 when Mengistu Haile Mariam assumed unofficial control of the provisional Military Administrative Committee also known as the Dergue. During that period, tens of thousands of Ethiopians were held, tortured or killed.
Prosecutors said Friday that three former Ethiopian political prisoners identified Worku, saying he beat and tormented them and others in the late 1970s. They say one picked him out of a photo lineup.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Worku also used the names Habteab Berhe Temanu, John Doe, Habteab B. Temanu, “TUFA”, Kefelegn Alemu and Kefelegn Alemu Worku.
Worku was indicted by a federal grand jury on Aug. 20 and arrested four day later. He made his first appearance in court on Monday.
Authorities say Worku entered the U.S. illegally in 2004 using a stolen identity and falsified paperwork.
Worku allegedly made false statements in connection with his November 2009 application to become a U.S. citizen, and repeated those statements in 2010. According to the federal prosecutors, those statements included using the false name Habteab Berhe Temanu, saying he was the father of five children and falsely responding to a question that asked if he had ever previously persecuted someone.
If convicted of unlawful procurement of citizenship or naturalization, Worku faces up to 10 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000. If convicted of aggravated identity theft, he faces an additional two year mandatory consecutive sentence and up to a $250,000 fine.