In the late 1970s, Alemu Worku committed war crimes on behalf of a Marxist regime in Ethiopia. This month, he was convicted of immigration fraud in a U.S. District Court in Denver, after living in Colorado for seven years.
The Denver Post reported that Worku had been hiding in plain sight, frequenting the Cozy Cafe in Aurora, Colo. and was well liked by those who knew him as a jovial father figure.
During the five-day trial several Ethiopians stepped forward to say Worku would shoot inmates, beat others with a rifle butt, and torture others as a guard at the Higher 15 prison in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, part of the political prisoner system set up under Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam. It was what became known as the “Red Terror.”
Jurors took three hours to convict Worku. He was stripped of his U.S. citizenship and faces up to 22 years in prison, the Post reported. His sentencing is set for Dec. 19. He could face deportation to Ethiopia, where a court reportedly sentenced him to hang.
The jury found he committed immigration fraud in stealing another man's identity and concealing his past.
In 1974, a Marxist regime known as the Derg took over Ethiopia. Between 1976 and 1978 the new government killed as many as 500,000 of the country's citizens in the “Red Terror” that targeted people suspected of being part of the resistance. Political prisoners were burned, flogged, and hanged by the arms. The Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front overthrew the Derg in 1991.
After the Derg fell, Worku fled to Kenya. After 13 years as a refugee, he connected with four teenagers who asked him to pretend to be their father to go to the United States. The five came to the United States on July 12, 2004.
They settled in Denver, which has a large Ethiopian immigrant community, which for a long time helped Worku blend in. But the large Ethiopian immigrant community is also the reason he was eventually caught.
Kiflu Ketema, an Ethiopian immigrant, former political prisoner and now Denver Postal worker, helped launch the case against Worku, and was disappointed he was only convicted of immigration fraud.
"This guy may have killed nearly 200 people,” Ketema told The Denver Post. “Why didn't they charge him with war crimes?"
Ketema confronted Worku outside the Cozy Cafe in 2011 before he alerted federal authorities. Worku was arrested but denied the charges, claiming it was a case of mistaken identify. But after two years, Worku confessed in a letter to a judge that ended with “Long live USA.”
(H/T: Denver Post)