Harrington fugitive brought back to U.S.

Posted June 19, 2009, at 7:59 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A former Harrington resident who has been sought by law enforcement officials for nearly two years is back in U.S. custody after being extradited from Canada, according to court documents.

Juan Centeno Perez, 47, originally was indicted in September 2007 on charges that he conspired to hire illegal aliens to work at a sea cucumber processing plant in Lubec and at Mexican Restaurant on Route 1 in the town of Hancock. At the time he was charged, his whereabouts were unknown and he was believed to have fled the area.

Last August, Perez was indicted on additional charges that he transported and harbored illegal aliens and that he knowingly provided false information about himself to federal immigration authorities. Also charged in the same case was his wife, Doris Amanda Ayala Escalante, who in March 2008 was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Bangor to serve 14 months in prison.

According to documents on file in U.S. District Court in Bangor, at some point since his indictment Perez was located and detained in Canada. Originally from Mexico, Perez was brought back to the United States on Wednesday and appeared Thursday in federal court in Bangor, the documents indicate.

In court, Perez waived his right to a detention hearing. Judge John Woodcock ordered Perez held in custody pending the outcome of his case, according to the documents.

If convicted of the three charges, Perez could face up to 25 years in prison and up to $750,000 in fines, according to court documents.

Attempts Thursday and Friday to contact federal prosecutor Nancy Torreson for comment on Perez’s case were unsuccessful. The U.S. Department of Justice has a policy of not commenting on cases until they have been resolved in court.

Perez’s attorney, Ronald Bourget of Augusta, said Friday that his client was stopped in Canada by police and was detained after they determined he was wanted in Maine. He said he was not sure where in Canada his client was detained, but that it was not at a border crossing. He said he thinks Perez was stopped in a city in On-tario or Quebec.

Bourget, who has had Perez as a client only since Wednesday, said he was not sure how long Perez was in Canadian custody. According to court documents, Perez has been held by authorities in Canada at least since last August.

Bourget said that it would be premature for him to comment on the charges against his client.

“We’ve entered a plea of not guilty,” he said.

According to the federal grand jury indictment of Perez, he was contracted in January 2005 by ISF Trading Co. Inc., the owner of the Lubec processing plant, to find and hire temporary employees at the plant, where his wife worked as a supervisor. At the time, Perez also owned Mexican Restaurant in Hancock, which he signed over to Escalante along with his employee contracting business in early 2007.

In 2006, a van carrying 18 illegal immigrants broke down in Machias as they were headed to work in Lubec from mobile homes Perez had rented for them in Columbia from Worcester Wreath Co., according to the indictment. The occupants of the van were apprehended by federal border patrol agents, but not before one of the illegal immigrants used a cell phone to contact Perez, who allegedly urged them to hide, the document indicated.

That same year, Perez was notified in a letter from the Social Security Administration that 58 of the employee names and Social Security numbers that he reported to federal tax officials did not match the agency’s records, according to the indictment. In January 2007, Perez allegedly conspired with Escalante to hire 17 illegal immigrants to work in Lubec, the document indicates.

Bourget said Friday that there were many things about the case that he was not familiar with or was reluctant to comment on. He said that Perez was detained in Canada while trying to reunite himself with his family.

“He loves his wife and family,” Bourget said. “Mr. Perez would like to be allowed to live and to work in the U.S.”

When Escalante was sentenced by Woodcock, however, she told the judge that she suffered years of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her husband. The judge sentenced her to serve 14 months behind bars instead of 27 months, which is recommended by federal sentencing guidelines, because of the influence Perez allegedly had over his wife’s criminal conduct.

“I cannot confirm or deny that at this time,” Bourget said about whether his client and Escalante have maintained their relationship.

In October 2007, Escalante pleaded guilty to visa fraud and to conspiring to hire illegal aliens. Because of time she already had spent behind bars at the time of her March 2008 sentencing, Escalante was released from prison in July 2008, according to information posted online by the federal Bureau of Prisons. Escalante, a native of Honduras, has two teenage daughters who are American citizens.

BDN writer Judy Harrison contributed to this report.

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