The feds are finally getting serious about folks like Evelio Padilla-Ortega.
Padilla-Ortega served just six years in a Mexican prison for a 1988 murder he committed in California, then snuck back into the United States.
The Mexican national, now 47, was caught by U.S. authorities in 2003 and deported. The law caught up to him again after another illegal crossing -- but only after he'd been arrested for theft and aggravated DUI.
When he was released from a one-year prison term for those crimes, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency again sent Padilla-Ortega back to the border and set him free. And, naturally, he returned.
This week, he ended up on ICE's radar for a third time after someone called an ICE tip line about him. But the agency is going to actually do something this time.
ICE arrested him in Phoenix today and will be prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for illegal re-entry to the country after deportation, a serious felony that could put Padilla-Ortega behind bars for up to 20 years.
Vincent Picard, spokesman for the local ICE office, says the charge of illegal re-entry was on the books in 2003 and 2005, but using it wasn't a priority for the feds at the time. That's changed in the last year or two, with ICE and federal prosecutors teaming up to throw the book at serious criminals like Padilla-Ortega.
Picard was not able to say in a brief phone interview whether ICE knew Padilla-Ortega had committed the shotgun murder in 1988, or that he'd served time in Mexico for it.
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Bisbee police stopped him in 1999 for driving violations, records show. It's a good bet they didn't know he was a murderer. Padilla-Ortega was cited for unsafe lane change, no insurance and driving on a suspended or revoked driver's license. It should go without saying that he never showed up for court on those charges.
The circumstances of the murder couldn't be determined immediately, other than Picard's detail about the shotgun.
The ex-con fled home to Mexico after the 1988 slaying. He was later caught by Mexican authorities and convicted of committing a homicide in a foreign country. Six years sounds like a slap on the wrist by Arizona standards, but without the full details of the murder, it's hard to know what to think.
Sounds like Padilla-Ortega might receive an even greater sentence for simply being here.