ordered Elian files destroyed
Web-posted: 11:33 p.m. Jan. 5, 2001
Miami employees of the Immigration and Naturalization Service were ordered
to destroy or conceal documents and electronic mail related to the Elian
Gonzalez case, according to a deposition by an attorney who represents INS
In a deposition given last month for the federal lawsuit
that Elian's Miami relatives have filed against the U.S. government, Coral
Springs attorney Donald Appignani testified that INS employees had told
him that "the U.S. government could be breaking the
"Basically, that is what I heard," Appignani
testified. "People were instructed to remove anything derogatory to the
Elian Gonzalez case."
Appignani, a labor lawyer who
represents the union that bargains for INS employees and also handles the
employees' equal employment complaints against the government, would not
reveal which employees told him of the orders, who gave the instructions,
or what information the documents and e-mail contained. He said he did not
hear the orders directly; they were related to him by
At the urging of his clients, Appignani in
November approached lawyer Ronald Guralnick with the
information. Guralnick represents the family of Lazaro Gonzalez, the
great-uncle who tried to keep the boy here and is now suing the federal
government and Miami police, claiming the April 22 raid that removed the
boy violated the family's constitutional
Guralnick deems the information so valuable
that he has asked U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno to order Appignani
to disclose all he knows.
"This is a major break in
the case," Guralnick said. "I'm looking forward to the court's ruling on
our motion to compel attorney Appignani to testify to the questions he
refused to answer at deposition, and I'm looking forward to talking to his
Aloyma M. Sanchez, a spokeswoman for the
U.S. Attorney's Office, said it would support Guralnick's motion to compel
Appignani to provide more detail.
"These are serious
allegations," Sanchez said. "We want to uncover the
Appignani also testified that INS employees
thought there was an atmosphere of contempt toward Cuban-Americans at the
INS regional office in Miami, which could prove detrimental to the
government if brought out at trial before a jury.
said he saw a cup circulated at INS offices with a plastic wrapper
imprinted with a Cuban flag inside a circle with a red line drawn through
it. On the other side was an image of a stopwatch with the number 154
inside -- for the 154 seconds it took agents to remove Elian from his
Miami relatives' home.
Appignani also confirmed he
had told Guralnick that, after the raid, INS Regional Director Robert
Wallis told about 50 INS employees that "it was the happiest day of his
life when he saw a photograph of a person on the ground with a gun pointed
at his head, because before the negotiations (between the Justice
Department and the relatives' lawyers) this person wouldn't shake his
Appignani said he did not hear Wallis say
this but was told he had.
Wallis could not be reached
for comment Friday.
Under questioning from Justice
Department Attorney Nina Pelletier, Appignani said he did not go to the
authorities after employees told him they thought laws had been broken but
went to Guralnick because that's what his clients had asked him to
In court documents, Appignani said he should not
have to reveal who his clients are because they fear reprisal by their
employers, the INS and the Justice Department.
don't really know if anything illegal was done or not, but it's not my
position to figure that out," he said. "The reason they didn't go to the
authorities is because the authorities are the employer and the defendant
in the case."
It's uncertain how much the INS
employees' complaints will play in the trial because unless Guralnick and
his investigators can prove that INS officials ordered the destruction of
evidence, it would be difficult to allege a
David Cazares can be reached at
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