US federal prosecutors on Thursday charged a Massachusetts judge and court officer with conspiracy and obstruction, saying they blocked an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer from arresting an undocumented immigrant at a 2018 court proceeding.
The charges target Massachusetts District Court Judge Shelley Joseph, 51, and Massachusetts Trial Court Officer Wesley MacGregor, 56, who came under federal investigation last year after authorities said the duo schemed to let the man escape from the Newton court.
ICE intended to arrest the unidentified suspected undocumented immigrant from the Dominican Republic facing a drug charge.
They described a huddled conversation between the judge and the defendant’s lawyer in which Joseph asks, “ICE is gonna get him?” and later says, “I’m not gonna allow them to come in here”.
Joseph then arranged for the suspect to be released through the court’s rear door while the ICE agent waited in the court room’s lobby for him to emerge.
MacGregor was also charged with perjury for allegedly lying to a grand jury that heard evidence on the case.
Massachusetts US Attorney Andrew Lelling said the case was not intended to send a political message.
“We did not bring this case in response to the public debate over immigration enforcement,” he said. “This is isn’t a policy seminar, it’s a law enforcement action.”
Representatives of the judge and court officer did not respond to requests for comment from Reuters news agency.
The state Supreme Judicial Court suspended Joseph without pay following the charges, noting its move “in no way reflects any opinion on the merits of the pending criminal case”.
The charges carry a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
The suspect has since been caught and is now in federal custody.
Massachusetts’ top court in 2017 ruled that state police cannot detain undocumented immigrants solely to buy time for federal officials to take them into custody.
One of Trump’s top priorities in office has been cracking down on undocumented immigration and he has regularly railed against “sanctuary” cities and states that do not cooperate with all aspects of federal immigration enforcement.
Trump earlier this month floated the idea of busing undocumented migrants stopped at the border to “sanctuary cities”, a move that critics called illustrative of the White House’s callous approach to the issue and some Trump allies called impractical.