Update on ID Theft, Privacy, Fear and Loathing in Colorado

I first mentioned “Operation Numbers Game” last August in this post and followed up about a month later with this post.

Here’s a quick recap of the controversial investigation.

“Operation Numbers Game” began after a Texas man told Greeley [Colorado] authorities someone there was using his identity. The suspect in that case alerted law enforcement to the firm that prepared his taxes. Investigators obtained a search warrant [and] seized the returns last year from a tax preparation firm that catered to Latinos in Greeley, where Hispanics make up about a third of the population.

A District Court judge halted the investigation in April. He ruled Weld County authorities violated people’s privacy rights and had no probable cause to inspect the tax returns, which were used to file charges of criminal impersonation and identity theft against more than 70 people.

Weld County appealed the decision.

Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, a Republican U.S. Senate candidate who advocates stricter immigration laws, has maintained the investigation was about identity theft, not illegal immigration.

Today the Colorado Supreme Court is hearing arguments about the legality of “Operation Numbers Game”. As reported in this story on TheDenverChannel.com, the web site for Denver ABC affiliate 7News, Weld County is sticking with their original “identity theft” spin.

The Colorado Supreme Court is hearing arguments Thursday about the legality of an identity theft investigation that targeted hundreds of suspected illegal immigrants who filed U.S. tax returns without valid Social Security numbers.

Authorities say that as many as 1,300 suspected illegal immigrants were using other people’s identities to work and to file taxes. Some of those charged face deportation. Others pleaded guilty before the court stopped the investigation.

Weld County is appealing the lower court’s ruling that there was no probable cause for the search warrant. The District Court judge called the warrant “nothing more than an exploratory search based upon suspicion that some unknown person or persons” committed a crime.

The county is appealing another judge’s ruling that barred prosecutors from filing more cases using evidence seized from the tax preparer.

Filing taxes is mandatory for anyone who earns income in the U.S. regardless of legal status. Many of the people targeted in Operation Numbers Game were filing taxes with government-issued taxpayer identification numbers.

So other than being an update on yet another creative interpretation of one law to enforce something completely different case, why should anyone care? What’s the big deal? Well here’s the big deal, again from the 7News article:

Prosecutors in other states have expressed interest in Weld County’s use of tax documents to go after illegal immigrants. Immigrant advocacy groups have said Weld County is the only jurisdiction to use tax records – which are confidential under federal law – to prosecute illegal immigrants.

Yikes! That’s right, fellow citizens, apparently D.A. Buck has some philosophically kindred spirits out there in other states. Hopefully the Colorado Supreme Court will stop this runaway train in it’s tracks before it can run roughshod (to the extent that trains, runaway or otherwise, have shoes) over more civil liberties.

Here are some previous stories related to this case.

[updated to fixed broken links]

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    3 thoughts on “Update on ID Theft, Privacy, Fear and Loathing in Colorado

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