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Peru claims Md. man had role in '80s killings

The Baltimore Sun

By his neighbors' account, Juan Manuel Rivera-Rondon lived a quiet life in an insular, upscale Montgomery County community where few truly know each other's past.

A legal immigrant from Peru, he had married, had two girls and later divorced while living in the United States, court papers show. He had prospered in the home mortgage business, acquiring two expensive houses outside Washington, taking trips with his girlfriend to the Cayman Islands and traveling back to Peru to visit his sick mother.

But the placid nature of his seemingly successful suburban life was belied by accusations this week by Peruvian authorities, who accuse Rivera-Rondon of participating in one of South America's most notorious civilian massacres while a Peruvian military officer in the 1980s.

Rivera-Rondon, 47, was one of three former South American military officers arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and now facing extradition. All are suspected of committing crimes against humanity in their home countries.

"This is very, very positive development," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Americas division. "It's actually great news. I hope that law enforcement operation of going after human rights violators is not going to be an isolated incident."

Claude Arnold, chief of ICE's Human Rights Violators unit, said such international investigations generally take years to bring to prosecution. "When these atrocities happen in other countries, it takes a while for the international community to respond to them," said Arnold, whose unit was created in 2003.

Often, he said, those responsible for committing heinous acts blend into the refugee population and disguise themselves as victims. Their appearance in the United States is not all that surprising, according to Arnold. Of the world's refugees who are resettled, 40 percent have ended up in this country, which many view as a haven.

Rivera-Rondon is accused of participating in the 1985 massacre of 69 villagers during a military raid in an area known as a stronghold of the Shining Path guerrilla group. Peruvian officials requested his extradition in March 2006.

But he has not been charged with that crime in the United States. Instead, court documents show that Rivera-Rondon was picked up on immigration violations March 23 for failing to report that he had been convicted of a crime involving the maltreatment of a young relative.

His next court appearance in Baltimore is scheduled for Wednesday.

It was unclear when Rivera-Rondon arrived in the United States, and why he had been able to return to Peru without being taken into custody there. Records show that he obtained a U.S. Social Security card in the early 1990s.

As part of the same investigation, federal agents also recently arrested Telmo Ricardo Hurtado-Hurtado in Miami on visa fraud charges. The ex-Peruvian army platoon commander led the military unit that gunned down dozens of civilians, according to Peruvian military court documents.

In a separate case this week, ICE agents arrested Ernesto Guillermo Barreiro, a retired army major who was Argentina's chief interrogator during the military dictatorship that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983.

According to a criminal complaint in the Florida case, Hurtado-Hurtado falsely stated in his U.S. visa application that he had never been arrested or convicted of a crime.

In an affidavit, federal authorities cite Peruvian documents that allege Hurtado-Hurtado commanded a platoon of soldiers that entered the Peruvian village of Accomarca in search of members of the Shining Path guerrilla movement. The officer and his troops gathered the villagers, raped the women and, at Hurtado-Hurtado's command, murdered 69 residents of the village, including children and pregnant women, the documents say.

Records show Rivera-Rondon has been held at the Howard County jail, but it was unclear yesterday whether he was still there. His attorney, Mary Ann L. Berlin, declined to comment.

Court papers reviewed yesterday reveal that Rivera-Rondon's run-ins with local authorities in Maryland might allow immigration agents to force his return to Peru.

In October 2003, a young relative accused Rivera-Rondon of a pattern of abuse that dated back several years, resulting in charges of child abuse and multiple sex offenses, court documents show.

Most of the charges were dropped two months later, but Montgomery prosecutors indicted him on a single charge of fourth-degree sex offense.

A year later, Rivera-Rondon pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of "contributing to a minor child in need of assistance," according to the charging documents, and was given probation before judgment. In January 2005, Rivera-Rondon received a one-year jail sentence, which was immediately suspended. He was placed on supervised probation for two years, court records show.

In court papers filed by ICE, Rivera-Rondon is accused of failing to report that crime to immigration authorities, which could imperil his legal standing in the United States.

While he was on probation, a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge granted him a waiver to travel outside the United States. Rivera-Rondon sought permission to travel to the Cayman Islands from late December 2005 to early January 2006.

In October 2006, the judge granted him another waiver, this time allowing "brief foreign travel due to family illness," according to court records. An attorney familiar with his case said he was able to gain permission to go home to Peru to see his ill mother and to the Cayman Islands, where his girlfriend was meeting relatives from Cuba.

In January, a county judge tacked on an additional seven months of probation but ultimately struck the guilty conviction from Rivera-Rondon's record, apparently because he had, until that point, complied with the terms of his probation.

Rivera-Rondon's most recent address is a six-year-old, 3,343-square-foot house in Laytonsville, a quiet, thinly populated town in northern Montgomery County. State property records show that Rivera-Rondon obtained title to the home in December 2005 from NRT Relocation LLC. NRT had bought it from a previous owner two months before for $846,000.

There was no answer yesterday at Rivera-Rondon's house in the subdivision of large, new homes that sell for $800,000 to $1 million.

Neighbors said Rivera-Rondon kept to himself since moving in about a year ago. His beige brick-and-stucco house was distinguished from those of his neighbors only by fresh plantings of spring flowers in his front lawn.

Some neighbors said they were surprised at Rivera-Rondon's alleged past, but not that he had escaped notice in their neighborhood. "I just don't think we're a nosy community," said one neighbor, who asked not to be identified by name. "Some people drive into their garage at night and you never see them."

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