Forger’s challenges dismissed by judge

A 29-year-old woman’s case to challenge multiple felony forgery charges — and possibly influence how such cases get tried in the future — died in Mower County court Tuesday.

Judge Donald Rysavy ruled that Martha Isela Reynua, who, according to court documents, calls Austin home, is guilty of two counts of aggravated forgery. She was also convicted on several other related felony counts.

Sentencing is set for July 2.

Previously, Reynua’s attorney, Minneapolis-based Bruce Nestor, argued that his client didn’t commit forgery because she didn’t falsely make or alter a document, but rather obtained legitimate identification illegally. The felony forgery charge has become more and more common locally in recent months, often being associated with cases of Hispanic or Latino immigrants allegedly using aliases to gain employment.

Nestor said state law makes it clear that his client — who used someone else’s Social Security card to acquire a state ID and subsequent work documents — did not in fact commit forgery.

That law reads, in part, that someone “with intent to defraud, falsely makes or alters a writing or object … so that it purports to have been made by another or by the maker or alterer under an assumed or fictitious name … is guilty of aggravated forgery.”

Nestor also argued that a double-standard exists — if his Hispanic client was charged with a forgery, why shouldn’t a young, white male get tagged with the same offense for using a fake ID to buy liquor?

“The fact that you’re an immigrant shouldn’t make it a felony,” he said in an earlier interview, adding that the charge level is key because it plays an important role in whether a deported individual can ever return legally.

“In general, prosecution of people for felonies is prohibiting them from gaining future immigration benefits,” he said. “Immigration consequences should be considered.”

Nestor said Wednesday that he plans on filing an appeal within 90 days of the sentencing date. He said his appeal will be based on two main arguments — one, that Reynua did not actually commit forgery, and two that I-9 employment documents obtained by the prosecution as evidence are not admissible in state court, according to federal law.

That second argument, the defense attorney said, goes toward things such as the new Arizona immigration law, which has stirred debate over whether a state should take what is generally considered a federal issue into its own hands.

“It’s really an issue of national significance,” Nestor said of the argument over using I-9 documents as evidence in state court.

Prosecutor Jeremy Clinefelter maintained throughout the case that by using a fictitious name — Reynua went by “Laura Romero” while working at Hormel — the defendant committed aggravated forgery. He likened it to someone who uses an alias to create a legitimate bank account and illegally writes checks from the account.

In such a case, Clinefelter said he believes aggravated forgery is an appropriate charge — he even noted that state law was changed to handle such schemes.

“Our statute specifically states that if you use a fictitious name (on a document), then (you can be found guilty of aggravated forgery),” Clinefelter said previously.

On Tuesday, Clinefelter said he was obviously pleased by the outcome.

“We felt all along we had the evidence to prove (the case) beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said.

However, Clinefelter said a different outcome wouldn’t have had a “catastrophic” effect on prosecutors’ ability to charge aggravated forgery. That’s because beyond the legal arguments over what constitutes forgery, the Reynua case involved a much more simple evidentiary issue — Reynua wasn’t staying at her sisters’ Austin home when it was searched by police in early June, so few fraudulent documents in her name were recovered.

She also wasn’t arrested, so Reynua never gave a statement to police.

Instead, authorities identified her with help from family during the search, and later received her I-9 documents from Hormel, under the “Romero” name.

Clinefelter said all of these circumstances were unusual, adding that most cases like Reynua’s involve home searches in which everyone linked to the investigation lives at the residence and hard evidence is readily available on-site.