A Baltimore defense attorney was arraigned Wednesday on charges of obstruction of justice and witness intimidation for allegedly trying to dissuade a rape victim from testifying against his client by telling her she risked deportation by the Trump administration.
In a recorded conversation, Christos Vasiliades, 38, and another man charged in the case, Edgar Ivan Rodriguez, told the alleged victim's husband about the "current environment for immigrants in this country" and offered $3,000 cash if she did not show up to court, which would force prosecutors to drop the case, the indictment alleges.
"You know how things are with Trump's laws now; someone goes to court, and boom, they get taken away," Rodriguez told the victim's husband in the recorded conversation, according to an indictment by the Maryland attorney general's office.
Vasiliades also offered an alternative solution: Just beat up his client.
"If we were back home where I'm from, from Greece ... we would go (expletive) him up, that's it, if you want to do that, that's fine," Vasiliades was recorded saying, according to court documents. "He's an (expletive), I think you should find him and kick his (expletive), personally."
Vasiliades was arrested Tuesday afternoon in the hallway of the Courthouse East building, as the trial of his client, Mario Aguilar-Delosantos, was set to start, according to the sheriff's office and court records.
Vasiliades returned to that courthouse Wednesday afternoon — wearing a yellow jumpsuit and hands cuffed behind his back. Prosecutors agreed to release him and Rodriguez under pre-trial supervision.
Rodriguez, who identified himself as Vasiliades' interpreter, also was charged with obstruction of justice and witness intimidation, according to court records.
Both pleaded not guilty.
Billy Murphy, Vasiliades' attorney, and Joseph Murtha, Rodriguez's attorney, left the courthouse without commenting.
The charges against Aguilar-Delosantos come amid heightened concerns for immigrants as the Department of Justice steps up immigration enforcement. Arrests by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement were up 40 percent in the first 100 days of the Trump administration.
"If you're an immigrant, you live in a climate of fear at this point, and these folks were trying to capitalize on that," Attorney General Brian Frosh told The Baltimore Sun.
The Baltimore state's attorney's office issued a memo to prosecutors recently, advising them to consider the "potential consequences to the victim, witnesses, and the defendant" in minor, nonviolent crimes.
City prosecutors were handling the rape case, and asked the attorney general's office to get involved due to a possible conflict, Frosh said.
The state's attorney's office declined to comment on the case but said it "has and will continue to partner and combine our efforts with the attorney general's office, not only in protecting immigrant populations but also in the prosecution of these individuals."
Aguilar-Delosantos, of the unit block of South Broadway in Fells Point, is charged with second-degree rape, third- and fourth-degree sex offenses, and second-degree assault. The incident dates to March 25, 2016, and he has been free on $250,000 bond.
As a result of his attorney's arrest, his trial date has been pushed back to August.
The attorney general's office said in court papers that Rodriguez was present for and participated in the meetings in which Vasiliades attempted to dissuade the alleged victim and her husband from testifying in court.
The indictment alleges Vasiliades contacted the victim's husband in April and said the case "had become 'more complicated'" and that Vasiliades wanted to meet to discuss the case.
At that meeting, the victim's husband said Vasiliades and Rodriguez warned of the potential risk for the couple if they testified in court. They "explained that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would likely be present in the courtroom for their client … and cited new federal laws and policies and maintained there is a high risk that" they would be deported if they testified in court, according to the indictment.
Vasiliades said his client was "very sorry and could offer compensation if they did not come to court and testify against him."
"Vasiliades and Rodriguez indicated that the monetary compensation would help ensure that [they] would not get deported," the indictment says.
On May 15, the victim's husband placed a phone call to Vasiliades at the direction of law enforcement and said he wanted to meet to discuss the offer. They agreed to meet three days later, and the victim's husband wore a recording device provided by law enforcement.
Vasiliades made everyone place their cell phones on a desk in the lobby of the building where the meeting took place, then led them into an office, according to the indictment. Vasiliades and Rodriguez said ICE was "looking at this case" regarding their client, and cited recent immigration statistics.
"They're going to ask, 'You have your documents?'" Rodriguez was recorded saying, according to the indictment.
Vasilades offered to give the victim $3,000, the indictment alleges. He said Rodriguez would wait outside the courthouse holding the cash. Once the case was dropped, Vasiliades said he'd walk outside and give a thumbs up to Rodriguez, who would then deliver the cash, the indictment said.
Then Vasiliades suggested assaulting his client. "Find him and wear him out," he said, according to the indictment.
Vasiliades has been an attorney since 2011, working for Murtha's firm. In one of his online biographies, he was described as an "aggressive trial attorney dedicated to client service."
He is related to the Vasiliades family that owns the Sip & Bite diner in Canton. In 2015, then-Sip & Bite owner Anthony Vasiliades was arrested and pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Virginia after giving $50,000 cash to a government cooperator in exchange for two kilograms of cocaine.
Christos Vasiliades is currently listed as the resident agent for Sip & Bite. He formed his own law firm in 2015, based on South Haven Street, and also is listed as a founding partner of a title company called Olympus Title.
"Through his own personal motivation, [sic] stellar reputation Mr. Vasiliades acquainted himself with attorneys and judges throughout the Baltimore City, Baltimore County and other jurisdictions in Maryland," his web site reads.