Business man sentenced for falsifying citizenship application

A federal judge sentenced a Brownsville man to time served plus 10 days for making a false statement or representation on his application to become a U.S. citizen.

George Z Rafidi, 43, who reached a plea deal with federal prosecutors, who dismissed multiple other charges against him Thursday morning, is pleased, his attorney, Reynaldo “Trey” Garza said after the hearing.

“We feel very bad for Mr. Rafidi. He’s had to suffer from a past mistake,” Garza said of Rafidi, a successful businessman who sold used cars, managed gas stations and owned bars. “We wish him the best and hope he can rebuild his life.”

Garza, who spoke with Rafidi after the hearing, said the man admits his mistake.

“I know I did mistakes in my life. As a human being I do repent those mistakes,” Rafidi said during the hearing.

He told U.S. District Judge Fernando Rodriguez he has had nothing to do but think while in jail.

“It was really hard on me,” Rafidi said. “I would ask if you could consider this as time served.”

Rafidi failed to disclose on the citizenship application that U.S. Customs and Border Protection detained him at an international bridge after he tried to leave the country without disclosing that he had more than $10,000, as required by law. Rafidi, who was not arrested during the incident, deals with large amounts of cash because of his businesses, Garza said during the sentencing hearing.

During that hearing, Rodriguez told Garza he was considering sentencing Rafidi to more than what the government recommended, which was time served because he determined the man had displayed a pattern of deceit during Rafidi’s journey toward citizenship.

Garza responded by saying that not only has Rafidi already served more than what the law requires for the offense he committed, but that in this day and age there is a suspicion of anyone who is from the Middle East.

“He’s like a piece of chewing gum you can’t get off the screen of the radar of the federal government,” Garza said.

Not only that, Garza said Rafidi’s family sold their ancestral land in Palestine to build a life in the United States, one that included Rafidi’s business ventures in the Rio Grande Valley.

“The punishment is a loss of his lifework,” Garza said.

The sentencing brings a close to the criminal cases against Rafidi, who also faced numerous state charges.

Late last month, Rafidi pleaded guilty in the 197th state District Court to one count of tampering with governmental records for falsifying a concealed handgun license by failing to disclose a conviction in Israel for being a member of the Popular Front, a Palestinian group the U.S. has designated as a terrorist organization.

He was sentenced to time served in that case as well and saw several charges dropped.

More than 20 years ago, Rafidi pleaded guilty to being a member of the Popular Front and to flying flags and writing prohibited slogans during protests against Israel’s occupation of land in Palestine. He was shot in the chest by the Israeli military during the protests.

Israeli court documents state that Rafidi was a member of the Popular Front for only a short time and left the group on his own accord.

During the sentencing hearing, Garza said that the Popular Front was formed at the university Rafidi was attending.

Rafidi’s attorney said Rafidi always maintained that as a young Palestinian in the 1990s there was a conflict with the Israelis, saying the Palestinians saw the Israeli military as occupiers.

According to Garza, when Rafidi was shot and arrested he went into a coma. He was slapped and beaten during interrogations by Israeli officials, Garza said.

However, when he was convicted in Israel, the military officials recommended lenience and said Rafidi left the Popular Front on his own accord.

Garza said he sought asylum in the United States after Hamas asked Rafidi, a Christian, to join.

Rafidi, who has spent 450 days in jail, still faces immigration proceedings that will likely end in deportation, his attorney said during the hearing. Rodriguez, also ordered him to pay a $1,500 fine immediately.

mreagan@brownsvilleherald.com