Illegal immigrant guilty in drug charges despite trafficking claims

A San Francisco jury found a 23-year-old illegal immigrant guilty Friday of selling crack cocaine in the Tenderloin despite his claims that human traffickers forced him to do it.

The case pitted the issues of human trafficking versus illegal immigrants who commit crime in the sanctuary city of San Francisco. While it is common for illegal immigrants to claim they are blackmailed into a life of crime, the cases rarely go to trial.

After what jurors described as about seven hours of intense and at times heated deliberations, an applause came from the jury room as the decision was made.

Jury foreman Daniel Ludwinski said he was one of the last to hold out against finding Rigoberto Valle guilty, but in the end he just didn't believe the Honduran immigrant's story.

I had sympathy for him because at some point he was victimized, Ludwinski said. “It all came down to whether or not we could trust the defendant.”

Police arrested Valle in an undercover “buy-bust” operation at Larkin Street and Golden Gate Avenue on June 4. Plainclothes officers gave Valle $20 and he spit out two rocks of crack cocaine in return, according to the charges.

Valle, who listened to the trial through an interpreter, claims he was the victim of human trafficking and was forced to sell drugs in order to pay a $500 debt to a smuggler. His attorney, Deputy Public Defender Hadi Razzaq told the jury on Thursday that the smuggler, also known as a “coyote,” put a knife to Valle’s throat, forcing him to sell drugs.

This happened after an arduous desert journey from Mexico to Arizona in which his family member paid a $1,500 fee. His trip to San Francisco would cost him another $500, which he couldn’t pay.

Prosecutors said the trafficking defense is just a way to avoid going to prison. If the jury believed his story, it could have sparked a defense with the potential to allow illegal immigrants to deal drugs with impunity. 

Assistant District Attorney Richard Hechler, in his closing statement, said Valle’s story is unbelievable because he always had a chance to escape.

“He could have run. He should have run. He didn’t run,” Hechler said.

Valle could be sentenced to prison but will most likely end up with probation. He will face deportation, however, because authorities believe he is in the country illegally.

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