An immigration judge yesterday rejected the government' bid to deport Taneytown cocaine dealer Fernando Hernandez, one of only three people in Carroll to be charged under the state's drug kingpin law.
"The court seemed to think Fernando was not trafficking in drugs, he was not a big dealer and that he wasn't a kingpin," said Ana C. Zigel, Hernandez's Owings Mills immigration attorney.
"The court said he doesn't show the characteristics of a drug dealer, and he turned to cocaine out of financial desperation."
U.S. Immigration Judge Bruce M. Barrett made his ruling yesterday after Hernandez, 44, appeared at a hearing at the Maryland Correctional Institution at Jessup. The judge could not be reached for comment on the closed hearing.
Harriet Cohen, the Immigration and Naturalization Service attorney who argued for deportation, did not return phone calls yesterday.
Hernandez and his wife, Bonnie, and his brother Henry, of Miami, were indicted by a county grand jury under the state's drug kingpin law, which is used when large amounts of narcotics are involved. Prosecutors alleged the three were major figures in a Miami-to-Carroll cocaine ring.
As the case unfolded, none of the three was convicted under the law. Each of them entered into a plea agreement with prosecutors.
Bonnie Hernandez, who is caring for the couple's three children, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute cocaine and was placed on probation.
Henry Hernandez pleaded guilty to a similar charge and was given a suspended 10-year sentence because of his cooperation with state and federal drug officials.
But his freedom from jail was brief. He was arrested and deported to his native Colombia last summer under a federal policy calling for the deportation of all aliens convicted of a felony drug charge.
Fernando Hernandez -- who pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and possession with the intent to distribute cocaine -- is serving 14 years at the Maryland Correctional Institution at Hagerstown.
He faced the same fate as his brother, with two important distinctions -- Fernando Hernandez has been a permanent resident since October 1983 and he has a family. Henry Hernandez had been in the country less than seven years, the minimum required to be considered a permanent resident.
At a sentence-reduction hearing in September, Fernando Hernandez asked for a lighter term, saying it would help his immigration case. Carroll Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr., who imposed the sentence, has yet to rule on that request.
Judith S. Stainbrook, Fernando Hernandez's criminal attorney, said yesterday that the ruling from the immigration judge could have ramifications on the pending sentence-reduction request.
"The effect of the sentence was extremely severe because it destroyed the family," Ms. Stainbrook said. "He was brutally punished, and this [deportation decision] is the first time anything good has happened to him since his arrest."
Asked if yesterday's ruling would affect his decision in the sentence-reduction request, Judge Burns declined to comment.
The Hernandez case is the only time the county Narcotics Task Force has made arrests under the drug kingpin law. At the time, prosecutors hailed the arrests and claimed the Hernandez family was a major player in the Carroll drug trade.
At the September sentence-reduction hearing, Assistant State's
Attorney Barton F. Walker III told Judge Burns that Fernando Hernandez deserved to be deported.
Told of the ruling yesterday, Mr. Walker hadn't changed his mind.
"What a shame," he said. "We don't need people like that in our society. We should kick him out."