Employer guilty in case of cop killer

October 5, 2009 4:05:28 PM PDT
A landscape business owner pleaded guilty Monday to harboring an illegal immigrant convicted of fatally shooting a Houston police officer in 2006. Robert Lane Camp's plea came a day before he was set to go to trial on the harboring charge. He also faced a charge of encouraging Juan Leonardo Quintero-Perez, the convicted killer of Officer Rodney Johnson, to unlawfully enter and live in the United States. Quintero-Perez was working for Camp, 47, and driving one of his company's trucks when Johnson pulled him over during a routine traffic stop in September 2006. After Quintero-Perez couldn't provide a driver's license, Johnson arrested him. Police said Johnson, 40, was shot four times in the head after Quintero-Perez pulled a gun from his waistband as he sat handcuffed in the back of the officer's patrol car. Johnson apparently missed the gun when he patted down Quintero-Perez, authorities said.

Quintero-Perez was convicted of capital murder and sentenced in 2008 to life in prison for Johnson's slaying.

"This tragedy illustrates the hiring of illegal aliens is not a victimless crime," said Robert Rutt, special agent in charge with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office of Investigations. "Too often those in the U.S. illegally are desperate to avoid law enforcement and take desperate actions which can turn tragic."

Dan Cogdell, Camp's attorney, did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment Monday.

Camp faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 when he is sentenced Feb. 1.

But in a plea agreement in the case, prosecutors say they will recommend a sentence of three months' imprisonment, three months' home confinement and five years' probation.

Quintero-Perez was charged with the state felony offense of indecency with a child in 1998, according to the criminal complaint in Camp's case.

Authorities say Camp, who owned a landscaping business in the Houston suburb of Deer Park, posted his $10,000 bond and hired a defense attorney for him.

Quintero-Perez was deported in 1999 after being convicted. But later that year, he returned to the country illegally, with Camp accused of buying him a plane ticket from Phoenix to Houston.

Authorities say Camp harbored Quintero-Perez by renting him a home and employing him without asking for any citizenship or work authorization documents.

After Johnson's shooting, Camp told police at first that Quintero-Perez was an employee but later denied that.

Johnson's shooting renewed criticism of the Houston Police Department's policy that only allows officers to ask about immigration status after arresting a suspect.

Critics of the policy say it encourages illegal immigration by tying officers' hands in enforcing the law. Supporters say the policy prevents racial profiling and discrimination.

After the shooting, the police department said it would work more closely with federal officials to identify illegal immigrants involved in crimes.

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