A Cuban national caught a small break in Erie County Court on Wednesday afternoon when Judge Thomas P. Franczyk sentenced him to one day less than a full year in jail.
The 364-day sentence gives Deladier Benitez, 34, of Miami a better chance to try to remain in this country when he is returned to Florida after serving his time in New York. Benitez pleaded guilty in December to three counts of criminal possession of a forged instrument. He was discovered to have a cache of fake credit cards after he was stopped trying to cross the Peace Bridge into Canada on Oct. 11.
Assistant District Attorney Brian P. Dassero, who prosecuted the case, said it appears that Benitez and others in his car were heading to the IKEA in Burlington, Ont., to use the fake credit cards to buy gift cards, which would then be sold for cash. Authorities believe the group did not realize they would be going through border security.
Benitez is a Cuban national who came to the United States in 2004. Because he has a prior felony conviction in Florida, receiving a sentence of one year or more in this case would have meant automatic deportation. However, U.S. policy involving Cuban immigrants and refugees remains fluid, changing in January under the Obama administration and now being reconsidered by President Trump. What the policy will look like later this year when Benitez is returned to Florida is unknown.
Before his sentencing Wednesday, Benitez told the judge through an interpreter that he embarked on the credit card scheme to raise money to pay an attorney to help him keep his daughter from being put up for adoption. Under questioning by the judge, he also said he hopes to finish cosmetology training so he can make a “righteous living” in this country when he is free.
Franczyk expressed mixed feelings about Benitez’s story.
“If you come here legitimately you should have the right to avail yourself of the opportunities and privileges,” Franczyk said. “But we have enough homegrown criminals, we don’t need to bring them in from other countries.”
Still, the judge said it was in Benitez’s favor that he had no violent crimes on his record, and Franczyk opted to let the southern court deal with the Cuban's residency status.
With that, the judge sentenced Benitez to 364 days on each count, to run concurrently, “After which I presume he will be taken back to Florida to face the music there.”