Attorneys for the prosecution and defense say if anything, Milenko Stjepanovic was the victim of some bad advice.
When applying for immigration to the United States as a refugee, Stjepanovic was told by friends not to declare his involvement in a military group that was tied to the genocide of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica in 1995.
On Tuesday, a federal judge sentenced 56-year-old Stjepanovic to a one year probation and he and his family now face deportation back to Bosnia. The irony is, say attorneys, that a review of military records show Stjepanovic played a minuscule role in the Army of the Republica Srpska, or the Vojska Republica Srpska (VRS). Although he would have faced higher scrutiny, there was a large chance Stjepanovic and his family would have been allowed as refugees.
"It is collectively tragic," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Dustin Pead, who noted acting on bad advice has proven devastating for this Bosnian family.
According to court records, Stjepanovic admitted on his application for a green card that he served in the Yugoslavian People's Army from 1969 to 1970 but failed to mention his involvement in the VRS. A war-crimes inquiry found that members of the VRS participated in human-rights violations, including the massacre of thousands of Bosnian boys and men. The Srebrenica incident has been classified as genocide by the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
Stjepanovic's attorney, Ed Brass, said his client has never caused any trouble and just wanted a better life for his family after suffering displacement himself from other groups in Bosnia. "This is a very sad case," Brass said. Stjepanovic said little in court. Through a Bosnian interpreter, he only asked if he could keep working while facing deportation proceedings so he can support his family and mother back in Bosnia.
Stjepanovic is one of several Bosnian immigrants living in Salt Lake City who were indicted in June 2006 for visa fraud. Another person, Stjepanovic's wife Mirka, worked as a cook for VRS but also failed to disclose that. Charges were dismissed against her.
Another man has agreed to cooperate with a wire-crimes inquiry still ongoing into the case of genocide. A third man, Branko Ristic, faces trial in federal court next month. Prosecutors say there is evidence that Ristic's failure to disclose his past could be "meaningful" to whether the United States would have allowed him into the country.Prosecutors said it is not clear whether Stjepanovic himself, or his whole family will be deported, being that his wife, two daughters and their children came into the country on his refugee visa.