What happened in O'Neill yesterday, and what is ICE anyway?

Two Homeland Security officers talk to a person in a car behind the Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters in Grand Island.

LINCOLN — After what a judge called a “weird” court hearing, one of the state’s leading immigration attorneys was forced to withdraw from a case involving this month’s immigration raid in O’Neill.

Ross Pesek, an Omaha lawyer, withdrew from representing JP & Sons, a company that is accused of harboring illegal immigrants and arranging work for them at O’Neill-area businesses. The withdrawal came just after U.S. Magistrate Judge Cheryl Zwart said she was “strongly leaning” toward ruling that Pesek had a conflict of interest in continuing as an attorney in the case.

The judge had called the hearing Thursday to sort out “what in the world was going on here.”

Last week, Pesek filed an unusual affidavit in federal court in which the president of JP & Sons, Juan Pablo Sanchez Delgado, admitted that he was living in the United States illegally. He offered to plead guilty if charges could be dropped against his wife, sister, brother, son, sister-in-law, brother-in-law and niece.

But federal prosecutors raised objections to the affidavit, saying that it appeared to benefit a former client of Pesek’s — the niece — and that Pesek’s firm had signed on to represent two others charged in the O’Neill raid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents on Aug. 8. Both would constitute conflicts of interest.

The judge also expressed concern about the affidavit, saying it was more a personal statement about Delgado — who is represented by another attorney, Jonathan Braaten — and not one about JP & Sons, which Pesek represented.

Lincoln attorney Vince Powers, who was representing Pesek on Thursday, said that Braaten had consented to talking with his client and that Pesek’s firm had withdrawn from representing others detained in the ICE raid in O’Neill.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Lesley Woods said Pesek had become a potential witness in the case by taking the affidavit, which would disqualify him from also serving as a defense attorney in the case. She also alleged in a court document that Pesek had threatened one of the witnesses in the case if the person didn’t testify for his client, JP & Sons.

Powers said there was no proof of any threat. But after the judge indicated that she was leaning toward finding a conflict of interest, he said Pesek would withdraw as an attorney in the case. There was no immediate word Thursday on who would represent JP & Sons as the federal case moves forward.

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Reporter - Regional/state issues

Paul covers state government and affiliated issues. He specializes in tax and transportation issues, following the governor and the state prison system. Follow him on Twitter @PaulHammelOWH. Phone: 402-473-9584.

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