An Ethiopian prison guard who officials say tortured and killed numerous civilians in Ethiopia and lied to gain American citizenship was sentenced to 22 years in prison for immigration violations Friday, after living in the U.S. undetected for years.
Senior U.S. District Court Judge John L. Kane sentenced Kefelegn Alemu Worku to the lengthy prison sentence for unlawful procurement of citizenship, making false statements on immigration documents, and identity theft.
Kane also stripped Worku of his citizenship and ordered him to served three years supervised release upon completion of his sentence when he will begin deportation proceedings.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Colorado, Worku lied on immigration forms about torturing and murdering people in Ethiopia during the Red Terror–a Marxist take over of the country in the late 1970s during which time tens of thousands of Ethiopians suspected of opposing the regime were tortured and executed. Worku was found guilty of using another individual’s identity to apply for citizenship and falsely answering “no” to the question, “Have you ever persecuted (either directly or indirectly) any person because of race, religion, national origin, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”
During the Red Terror, officials charged, Worku was a prison guard at a facility called “Kebele 15” or “Kefetegna 15” (or “Higher 15” in English), in which people were tortured and killed for their political affiliations and views. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office family members were often forced to pay for the bullet used to kill their loved ones in such prisons during under the regime.
Witnesses testified to Worku’s personal involvement in “Higher 15.”
Abebech Demissie said she was 16 years old when she was taken to the prison and saw Worku kill prisoners, according to the Associated Press, including a teenage boy.
He told the prisoners to “clean the blood off the floor with anything we could find, including our tongues,” Demissie said, according to the AP.
The AP reports that in 2000 an Ethopian court sentenced Worku in absentia to death for genocide. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office records show he came to the United States under his false identity as a refugee in 2004 and lived in Denver until his indictment by a federal grand jury in 2012.
Worku came to the attention of Homeland Security Investigations when a naturalized U.S. citizen from Ethiopia recognized Worku as a prison guard during the Red Terror and notified authorities.
“Today, justice was done. By sentencing defendant Worku to the maximum possible term for his crime, Judge Kane sent a stern, determined message that the United States will not allow its generous asylum laws to be manipulated to create a safe haven for murderers and torturers from abroad,” U.S. Attorney John Walsh said in a statement. “Our system of justice has successfully removed the defendant from the immigrant community he once terrorized, and in so doing vindicated not only our laws, but the rights of the defendant’s many victims now living here in our country.”