DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- An attorney for a union representative accused of protecting illegal immigrants working at a meatpacking plant in Marshalltown told a jury during closing arguments on Wednesday that his client may have said some unlikeable things but wasn't guilty of any crimes.
Braulio Pereyra-Gabino was arrested by federal immigration officials in July 2007. He faces charges of harboring illegal workers, false use of a Social Security number and aggravated identify theft. His trial in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa started Monday.
Federal prosecutors contend that from June 2003 until early last year Pereyra-Gabino, a vice president of Local 1149 of the United Food and Commercial Workers, told undocumented workers how to escape detection and protect their fake identities used to get jobs at the Swift & Co. plant in Marshalltown.
Officials said the charges resulted, in part, because of union orientation speeches that the defendant gave to all new Swift employees of Hispanic descent. They said he told illegal workers to do things such as hide their identification in their boots and not tell anyone else which workers did or did not have legal authorization to work in the U.S.
''He knows they are not legally in the United States or why else would he tell or give them that information?'' prosecutor Lester Paff asked during closing arguments.
Defense attorney Keith Rigg told the jurors that they may dislike or even hate what his client said during those speeches but maintained that it's his right to free speech.
''There is no shielding (illegal immigrants), nothing other than a speech that the government doesn't like,'' he argued on behalf of Pereyra-Gabino, a naturalized American citizen from Argentina.
Rigg noted that during those speeches, his client told undocumented workers never to lie to law enforcement.
''In that speech, if somebody is using illegal papers he tells them, 'You can lie to your boss. You do not lie to the police. You tell them your real illegal alien name and hand them your real illegal identity card,''' Rigg said.
Earlier in the week, a prosecution witness testified that Pereyra-Gabino knew she was an illegal immigrant but told her how to obtain documents to work at the Swift plant. She taped the conversation with him as she cooperated with the federal investigation.
Pereyra-Gabino was also accused of filling out a job application at Swift for his nephew in December 2005, and providing the company with a Social Security number issued to another man, Mohammed Carrasquillo. Prosecutors called Carrasquillo, who testified that he never filed an application at Swift or worked there.
A handwriting expert testified that the application was likely filled out by Pereyra-Gabino.
Another Swift & Co. worker who was implicated in an immigration scam at the Marshalltown plant pleaded guilty earlier this year to harboring an illegal immigrant.
Christopher Lamb, a human resources manager, was arrested after authorities recorded him coaching an illegal immigrant on how to use fake documents to get hired. The worker Lamb allegedly coached was among those arrested during a raid on the Swift plant in December 2006. Lamb also admitted hiding an illegal immigrant at the plant.
He was sentenced to a year of probation.
In December 2006, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials raided six plants in Iowa, Nebraska, Texas, Colorado, Utah and Minnesota, arresting 1,297 workers.