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In April 2009, the woman's kidney disease had worsened and so had Kulla's harassment. In preparation for her second surgery, she spoke with Jennifer Harrilll, a social worker at Duke Hospital who coordinates the Latino Health Project, about Kulla's threats.
Harrill put her in touch with Marty Rosenbluth, a staff attorney with the Durham-based nonprofit Southern Coalition for Social Justice. "Part of the problem was that she was afraid to go into the hospital because she was worried Bedri would find her there," Rosenbluth says. "One of the reasons that the social worker contacted us was that she was worried that the woman wouldn't come into the hospital even though she needed the surgery urgently."
Initially, Rosenbluth had to ascertain how dangerous Kulla's threats were, if he really worked for ICE and if he had the authority to deport her. Kulla had used his real name and a photo in his communication with her, yet he was posing as a federal official.
"When we first got the case, I thought there was no possible way an employee of the Department of Homeland Security would be stupid enough to use their own photo and real name," says Rosenbluth, who initially suspected an outside contractor had found access to ICE computers and pulled up the woman's information.
Rosenbluth arranged for her to be given an alias during her hospital stay, and he filed a John Doe complaint with Garcia of the Chapel Hill Police Department.
"We collaborated because of my familiarity with harassment and stalking," says Garcia, "and at that point, she was extremely afraid and hesitant of speaking with law enforcement officials, so Marty was her buffer while she gained trust."
The woman says she was afraid Kulla would find her in the hospital, and the "police wouldn't believe me. It would be his word against mine."
Eventually, she felt reassured and agreed to undergo the operation. Rosenbluth provided Kulla's photo to the security officials and nurses at Duke Hospitals. By this point, Rosenbluth and Garcia had determined that Kulla worked for CIS, but not ICE, and didn't have the authority to deport the woman. However, he could access ICE computers, which is how he obtained her 2005 deportation order—conveniently overlooking the 2008 Order of Supervision that let her remain in the country.
Kulla continued to send ominous e-mails and texts. On April 6, he wrote, "I serious – you need contact me. Is no joke."
On April 7, the day she was hospitalized for surgery, he texted her, "Take the situation serious and contact me by Friday. That's all the time you have."
On April 11, Kulla e-mailed her: "Immigration has all your information now. It does not mean that they will come today but one day they will come and you will be send back to your country deported. Take this serious and call me if you do not want that this happens to you. Think serious as I am not lying to you but it is the truth. You have my number call,"
On April 13, Kulla made good on his promise. According to federal court records, he contacted ICE deportation officer Ronald Dorman and told him that in the course of his work with CIS, he had encountered a woman who had an outstanding deportation order. Kulla turned the woman in to ICE.
On April 17, Kulla e-mailed her: "i gave you chance ... now its too late enjoy your trip to your country."
ICE stepped in to apprehend Kulla, who, by posing as an ICE officer, could embarrass or undermine the agency.
"A rogue person like Bedri is a bad thing for them [ICE]," says Rosenbluth. "Bedri wasn't enforcing immigration laws, he was trying to exploit his position in order to have sexual relations with vulnerable women."
Barbara Gonzalez, Southern Regional Communications Director for ICE, would not comment on the case, but she did say the agency takes these cases "very seriously."
"It is unfortunate that there are people out there that are willing to pose as a federal official. We are committed to educating the community; we don't want them to fear calling the authorities. We're working to reach those victims who are out there."
ICE Senior Special Agent Elizabeth Fernandez received the criminal complaint against Kulla that the woman had filed with Chapel Hill Police and subsequently interviewed her. She identified Kulla in a photographic lineup, and at Fernandez' direction, responded to Kulla's April 17 message indicating she had been ill and hospitalized. She asked him what he wanted her to do to withdraw the deportation threats. Kulla insisted they meet face-to-face to talk.
On May 28, ICE agents arranged an undercover meeting at a Raleigh coffeeshop. They had wired her with a recording device. Agents also photographed Kulla entering and leaving the meeting.
According to court documents, the recording captured the following exchange:
The woman: "Why you, you send a message tell me you send immigration to my work?"
Kulla: "Because I think you're playing games with me."
Kulla sent her more messages throughout June, and on July 15, ICE agents arrested him. The affidavit alleges that Kulla "threatened and blackmailed an alien with deportation if she would not engage in a relationship with him, including spending the night at his apartment, and followed through on the threat by attempting to cause a deportation officer to take action against the alien."
This was not the first time Kulla had acted inappropriately toward an immigrant woman. According to court records, while working at CIS in 2008, Kulla was administratively disciplined because "while performing his official duties, he provided his cellular telephone number ... on a sticky note to a female foreign national who was involved in immigration proceedings."
CIS Public Information Officer Ana Santiago declined to comment, citing the pending sentencing.
Police issued a restraining order on Kulla, prohibiting him from contacting or seeing the woman. However, Kulla's attorney, Patrick Roberts, reportedly sent men who identified themselves as private detectives to her apartment complex to ask her neighbors about her character. Roberts canceled two scheduled interviews with the Indy. Through his secretary, he told the Indy he did not want to impact the outcome of the case by speaking about it before the sentencing hearing.
"They went to the main office at the apartment complex and said they were police from the government," says the woman, who was terrified to leave her apartment.
The private detectives spent the day in her apartment complex, and she says she watched them wait in the parking lot for her to leave. She says she was afraid they would try to kill her if she left or went to her car. "I thought that they were mad because Bedri was in jail, and since he couldn't get me he sent them," she says. "There are people you can pay to kill someone."
She called Rosenbluth. Within two hours, Rosenbluth says he reached Anand Ramaswamy, the federal prosecuting attorney, who informed Roberts to stop the investigators immediately. The N.C. Bar code prohibits lawyers from contacting an individual who is represented by an attorney without the attorney present. According to an e-mail obtained by the Indy, a U.S. Department of Justice official told Roberts to direct any inquiries about the woman to Rosenbluth. Rosenbluth says Roberts apologized to him.
Little can be gleaned about Kulla through public records, except that he is originally from Canada, born to Albanian parents. He has lived in upstate New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina—in Raleigh and then Morrisville. (Kulla could not be reached for comment for this story.)
Kulla has long been interested in Latinas. In 2002, a man listing himself as Bedri Kulla claimed to run a company called TIR International and stated he was looking for Latinas who wanted to be singers or entertainers. He asked prospects to send a photo and an e-mail. In 2004, Kulla posted on www.love-is-in-the-air.com, a dating site for people in the airline industry, that he was interested in Latinas and described himself as "sincere, warm-hearted, kind, trustful, helpful, a communicator, loyal and honest and have family values."
Kulla continues to post his profile and picture on social networking sites, including iHispano.com, and included an update as recently as June.
And on June 25, when the DREAM Team was holding its hunger strike in Raleigh, Kulla e-mailed the team with the subject line: "Volunteer" and posed the question, "What type of volunteer security you looking for and what type of support?"
Dominic Powell, a team volunteer, read the e-mail. He says the message made him suspicious. "We received lots of e-mails from students, friends of friends, wanting to know how they could help, but most of the time they were very general pledges of support. Bedri asked very specifically about security, which was odd."
The campsite needed 24-hour security, but this was a task team volunteers reserved for themselves and trusted friends. Powell did an online search for Kulla's full name and found the case history posted on the Southern Coalition for Social Justice website. He called Rosenbluth, who advised team volunteers not to reply to the e-mail; instead Rosenbluth called Kulla's attorney.
"His attorney said he would get him to back off," says Rosenbluth, who says he also called the federal prosecutor and ICE to notify them that Kulla was actively contacting Latinas. "It does show that he has a very unhealthy obsession with Latina women."
Today, as a crime victim, the woman has applied for a U visa, which would give her temporary legal status and work eligibility for four years.
"If he thought I was the type of person to be intimidated by him, then he was very wrong about me. Even if nobody was going to believe me, I wasn't going to let him manipulate me that way."
Her advice for immigrants is simple. "Don't let anyone intimidate you, and even if you cannot read or write, there are people who can help you, and you have that right—even people without papers."