Midvale • Latino advocates on Monday condemned a deal that allowed two former state workers accused of compiling and distributing a list of allegedly undocumented immigrants to be charged, enter pleas, and sentenced on Monday.
Neither Leah D. Carson, 39, or Teresa Bassett, 59, will go to jail.
Carson pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and was given 12 months of probation and a $440 fine. Bassett entered an Alford plea in which she maintained her innocence but acknowledged prosecutors had enough evidence to convict her of two felonies. A judge sentenced Bassett to 36 months of probation and 250 hours of community service.
"She believes this was done by someone else and the evidence pointed to her," said Bassett's attorney, Loni DeLand, during her court hearing.
Tony Yapias, Frank Cordova and Archie Archuleta, who lead various Latino organizations, held a Monday afternoon news conference to criticize the resolutions. They said Bassett, at least, should have received jail time.
"What this says to future individual case workers for the state is if you release names, you will be tapped on the finger; not even slapped on the wrist," said Yapias, director of Proyecto Latino de Utah.
"There is no justice for a person of color," said Cordova, president of Centro Civico Mexicano.
Assistant Utah Attorney General Scott Reed, who prosecuted both cases, defended the outcomes and pointed out neither woman was accused of violence or stealing money. He said the expedited court proceedings, reached as part of an agreement with the defendants, were meant to avoid protests from both supporters and detractors of what has become known as "The List."
"If you look at what happened with Tim DeChristopher, we were trying to avoid that," Reed said, referring to the defendant whose bogus purchase of oil and gas leases drew rallies of support outside the federal courthouse during his trial earlier this year.
Monday's hearings brought an abrupt end to an episode that drew national attention and outrage from both sides of the immigration debate.Carson and Bassett were state employees at the Division of Workforce Services and, according to prosecutors, compiled a list of applicants for state aid they believed were undocumented immigrants.
Reed on Monday said Carson and Bassett began working together in February 2010 at a state office in Midvale, where they talked and discovered they shared a common "ideology." Carson began retrieving data on suspected undocumented immigrants and sharing it with Bassett.
When Bassett decided to disseminate the information, Carson "discouraged her" but didn't take more affirmative steps to stop her, Reed said. Bassett sent the list 1,300 names with birthdates, addresses, telephone numbers and some Social Security numbers in July 2010 to law enforcement, government agencies and media outlets.
Advocates for Latinos, Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and Gov. Gary Herbert condemned the list, and Shurtleff and Herbert promised swift action. The president of the Utah Minuteman Project and at least a few citizens who wrote to Herbert supported Bassett and Carson.
Eli Cawley, president of the Utah Minuteman Project, continued to support Bassett and Carson on Monday, calling them "patriot whistleblowers" who should not have been prosecuted. Cawley also repeated his earlier prediction the case would not go to trial.
"The people who are mongering amnesty will never want discovery in this case," Cawley said, referring to the legal term for respective sides to disclose the evidence they hold.
Carson was charged with a misdemeanor count of false statement by an unemployment compensation agent. In the Midvale Justice Court, Carson represented herself. As everyone in the courtroom waited for Judge Ronald Wolthuis to enter, Carson sat with Reed and detectives from the Attorney General's Office.
She answered a few standard questions from the judge and disclosed she is separated from her husband and a mother of five children.
"I just want to apologize for my actions," Carson told Wolthuis as she began to cry. "They were really stupid."
The charge against Carson carried up to 90 days in jail, but Reed recommended it be suspended. Reed said Carson had cooperated with prosecutors and the internal investigation by DWS and appeared sorry for what happened.
About three hours later, Bassett appeared in state court in Salt Lake City on two counts of felony computer crimes. Bassett, who earlier this year legally changed her name to London Grace Wellington, showed no hint of melancholy and emphatically answered questions from Judge Robert Hilder.
"I am innocent, but I am pleading guilty pursuant to Alford v. North Carolina," Bassett said, referring to the U.S. Supreme Court precedent that allowed Alford pleas.
DeLand told Hilder his client had lost her retirement as a result of her termination and has been living on savings and what she has borrowed from her mother. Bassett told Hilder she plans to carry out her community service at churches and give lectures about emergency preparedness.
When Hilder warned her a failure to fulfill the terms of her service and probation could send her to prison for up to five years, Bassett replied: "I'm a very good citizen, sir, and I do not do those things that are wrong."
Outside the courtroom, DeLand said Bassett did not know who distributed the list.
"I thought the [prosecution] evidence was pretty strong," DeLand said.
DeLand declined to discuss his client's views on immigration.
Yapias attended Bassett's hearing and when it concluded, he approached her in the hallway. He said later he was attempting to ask her why she compiled the list. Yapias said Bassett laughed and told him she was innocent.
At the afternoon press conference, Yapias acknowledged he did not know of anyone having been deported as a result of the list. But Archuleta, president of the Utah Coalition of La Raza, said the list made immigrants across the state afraid there would be a "thump on the door and someone to take them away."
"You have to understand that fear to understand why we're so damn pissed," he said.
O See the charges filed against Teresa Bassett, now London Grace Wellington.