Tuesday, January 27, 2009

ACLU files class action lawsuit against Weld Sheriff, DA

The American Civil Liberties Union has made good on its threat to file a lawsuit against Weld County Sheriff John Cooke and Weld District Attorney Ken Buck, alleging the campaign to arrest illegal immigrants for identity theft violated privacy laws.

In a class action lawsuit filed in state district court on Monday night, the ACLU of Colorado argued that Cooke and Buck are violating the privacy rights of thousands of law-abiding taxpayers by keeping copies of confidential information obtained in an illegal search of Amalia’s Translation and Tax Service in Greeley last fall, according to a prepared release.

“The search violated the privacy rights of thousands of innocent taxpayers who are not suspected of any wrongdoing,” said Mark Silverstein, ACLU legal director, in the release. “If the sheriff and the district attorney can comb through all the many thousands of records of a tax preparer on the theory that some of the clients are doing something wrong, then none of our private information is safe.”

The defendants in the case — who authorities have said used false or stolen Social Security numbers to work in Weld County, then obtained tax returns as illegal immigrants — are slowly being arrested for criminal impersonation or identity theft in the investigation. Buck and Cooke say they have identified roughly 1,300 suspects.

Officials got a search warrant to review tax filings from 2006-07 that contained a special IRS number called an ITIN, which is issued only to non-residents for purposes of filing income taxes.

Silverstein said that search amounted to a fishing expedition, which is prohibited by law. He likened the search to that of a search for any criminal activity in an apartment building, then rummaging through each apartment to find a crime.

For more on this story, see Wednesday's Tribune.



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