Friday, September 28, 2007

Give Pedro Zapeta's Money Back!

CNN Photo: Pedro Zapeta

The story of Pedro Zapeta has my blood boiling.

Check out Pedro's story on CNN here.

Photo: Senator Dick Durbin

Dear Senator Durbin (edited),

I have just become aware of the story of Pedro Zapeta, an illegal immigrant from Guatemala who has recently become the subject of national news coverage.

While I whole heartedly agree that Mr. Zapeta needs to be deported, I feel that we must return to him the $59,000 (minus any taxes, and penalties he may owe) which this poor man spent the last eleven years earning as a dishwasher.

Washing dishes is a thankless, dirty, and difficult job, but it is honest work.

This poor man was earning just $5.50 per hour!

His life's dream was to work hard, to live on practically nothing, to save his money, and then return to his home town to help himself, and his family to rise above their current station in life.

He was caught trying to take his money out of the country without declaring it, and so now he has lost the fruits of his labor, and his sacrifices to our federal government.

This is wrong, down to the very core of it, this is wrong!

I don't know what you can do to help this man, but if you could do anything at all, if you deem it reasonable then please do.
. .
Don't know what the Senator can do, but this kind of thing gets me riled up.


Anonymous said...

Being an immigrant myself in the UK I cannot believe that people still defend this guy.
The fact that people often ignore when considering this cases, is that HE DID SOMETHING ILLEGAL, so he must pay for it. If UNICEF sold drugs to fund its causes, it wouldn’t be right, even that they do help poor children around the world.
Unfortunatelly, they are playing the inocent ‘Ooops I did it again’ face to escape, surely in 11 years he realised what tax was all about, and that he somehow he was doing something illegal, otherwise please put him in an institute.

This attitude and wanting to bend the rules is that makes life for legal, ‘with-nothing-to-hide’ immigrants so hard when they arrive in their host country. If countries were asured that immigration comes in, works, pays taxes, and behaves well. All borders would be open to everyone. Which government doesn’t want more good workers/taxes…. if they stay: good they earned their pension and well being, if they leave… even better: ‘thank you so much for all the taxes you’ve paid’

Please send him back home to learn some manners and to respect the peole from whom he wanted to still taxes, services, etc.

Anonymous said...

Exactly how did this guy live?? If he was only making $5.50 an hour and he saved $59K, what did he do for living expenses like rent and food? I think we need to look more deeply into this story, before we respond with a knee-jerk reaction of "awww poor guy, give him his money back"

Peter said...

Bottom line is ... He is in this country illegally. He broke the law.
He didnt even take the time to learn the laws, speak or comprehend english, pay taxes or look at any avenue to become have legal status.
If you want him to have the money back then get his Moms address and send it there.
I was contacted by a group which is palnning on forming a class action suit aimed at all illegal immigrants in the united states for theft of services and costs related to such services.
you want him to have his money, then you give it to him

anne said...

I'm with you on this completely. I found your blog looking for more information on this man's plight. Good idea to write to our representatives. I wish I could do more - this is just wrong. Like you, I understand that he was here illegally and needs to return home, but confiscating money he earned washing dishes for *eleven years*? There's really nothing more to say than that it's wrong. It strikes me as greedy, thoughtless behavior on the part of our government.

Anonymous said...

Here's an illegal that sneaks in to this country, lives under the radar, never paying a dime in taxes and ignoring the laws of this country. Considering he worked in southern Florida, he likely had false identificaiton and drove illegally as well. So when he tries to sneak OUT of the country with his illegal earnings, he gets caught and the funds are confiscated. Now he "doesn't feel good about this country"? Well GOOD! Go back to Guatamala and tell your fellow countrymen what happened! That's one law-breaker that got his just deserts. It's just a shame it has cost the US Taxpayers so much money in legal fees. He should have been shipped back the same day he was busted.

John said...

While I agree that this guy is a criminal for being in this country illegally (he's not the only one and we as a country aren't doing anything to change that) and for not paying proper taxes, I think he is owed some of his money. He should be required to pay his proper share of the taxes he owed and be on his way back home with the remaining amount.

In our country where you can kill someone and go free as long as you have enough money, this guy is the least of our problems. He earned an honest living and did a job that most in this country would not do for the wage he was paid. If a CEO can bankrupt a company and cost all of it's employees their earnings and their saving yet still maintain his millions the least we can do is send this guy home we his hard earned money, after taxes of course.

Anonymous said...

Boo hoo hoo Jerome...go see a heart surgeon so he can sew up your bleeding heart. It is people like you who want to soften our laws of this nation as well as weaken our value system and national identity.

Anonymous said...

This man deserves nothing. He is a working man, but he is definitely a criminal. If I work for years and don't pay a dime to the IRS, I *will* go to jail and I am a U.S. citizen! He should just be happy he is getting sent home instead of facing the consequences everyone else in the country would face if they did the same thing.

The man does not speak any english and yet he has lived in this country for 11 years. Tell me why he deserves anything at all. Complete disrespect for a country that almost gave you the chance to make so much money. Luckily the system punished him as he should have been.

And to think, he could have gotten away with $19,000, but no, he wanted it all even though he ignored the laws of this country and failed to naturalize at any point. He honestly thinks that he did not do anything wrong. That is insanity to me.

And shame on the fools who have donated money to his cause and those who side with him.

Anonymous said...

Payton has it right. I can't believe we are even considering giving money to a man who has committed these crimes against our country. I pay taxes every day, but here is a man who paid nothing to our country and is now costing taxpayers even more in legal and immigration fees, and all these people feel so sorry for him. What about me? I make minimum wage AND pay taxes, can I have my money back too?

Anonymous said...

To those of you sending this man donations: What are you thinking ?

Billions of people all over the world are as poor as this man but haven't decided to violate our country's borders. Do you have money to send to each of them ? Aren't they even more deserving ? By sending this fellow money aren't we encouraging further illegal activity in border crossing and employment.

Anonymous said...

Interesting to think this immigrant robs us of our resources/services, when in fact he was doing a job most Americans with the same skill set would pass up to sit at home, collect federal and state aid and are role models for future generations. Of course he broke the law, indisputable...however, if you have never been to a Central or South American country for an extended period of time, it is not fair to assume you know his perception of our laws. As for his English speaking capabilities, I hardly believe his work alotted him much time for language tutoring. I do not condone his illegal behavior, but I do sympathize with his good-willed intentions. So take a little money for his taxes, and let the poor guy go home. And where is the employer in this whole mess??? Did he/she not break the law as well. I believe last time I checked, they are responsible for taxes as well. Oh wait, I get it...let's only punish this theiving, greedy ingrate as he has been called. Quite sad someone said he needed to learn respect, as if his employer showed him any respect. White-collar crimes cost the American people hundreds of millions of dollars each year, and yet we feel violated by this guy? Give me a break. How about choosing your battles? Oh, I forgot how much the war in Iraq is costing the American people? Does anyone know the exact amount? But yes, Pedro is our biggest threat....get with with it....

Anonymous said...

I have to agree completely with September 28, 2007 8:53 AM comment. I believe the standard of living of most American in this country is too high to comprehend how poverty and lack of education could turn's a hard working and honest man into a criminal. If you were from a third world countries and spend a lot of time with poor people from those countries, you may have a better understanding of what gets into his mind when he cross the border to this country, meaning no harm but trying to save his little hard-earned money home to have a better life. And to point some simple things out. This guy spent 11 years saving $59000 doing dishes. That works out to little more than $5000 a year. There is nothing more to look into the story of this guy period. He earned his money honestly. Oh and the bigger point is this guy made so little per year that he probably don't have to pay tax anyway should he filed tax properly. Stop making the point that he cheated the tax. It is pointless!

Quirine said...

it's certainly easy to say that this man is a criminal and should have all his cash taken away when you're sitting pretty in the US with all your cash flow.

1. He worked hard for minimum wage.
2. He's going back to his poverty-stricken country to help his family prosper.
3. He was desperate to make money and avoided taxes so that he could get home faster.

How many of you have been hungry and watched your family work their fingers to the bone only to break even?

I for one think they should have done the following:

1. Taxed him what he owed plus any penalties.
2. Helped him transfer the remaining funds to his family.
3. Sent him on a plane to his country (on his own dime) and tell him he may never return to the US.

As far as avoiding this in the future, the government obviously has a lot of work to do in the illegal immigrant department.

The last thing is... if he goes home with his money and sets up his family, you're preventing a whole new generation of Zapeta's from moving to the US illegally. Leave it to the US to spend 100k to deport someone leaving with 59k. Nice job morons.

Cliff Vegas said...

To counter the cynicism of earlier remarks, this story has a ring of truth - at least the math points that way.

If Pedro trimmed his living expenses to 50% of income, worked a steady 8 to 10 hours per day, 6 days a week (accounting for about 25 days off per year besides Sundays and perhaps some down days when he couldn’t find work, he could have easily accumulated $59k in savings after 11 years.

Two things come to mind. One: I earn almost ten times what this guy earned per year and can barely scrape together enough to meet the IRS minimum for my IRA exemption. Two: most people I know earn at least 10 times what this poor guy earned and are struggling to pay their mortgage and Beemer lease payments.

I’m certain that an earlier poster’s incredulity is fed by the same lopsided American consumerist attitude. But we should be cautious about being overly judgmental and cruel.

Can’t we figure out how to give this guy a break? Okay. Sure, force him to pay income tax; at his bracket that might be around 20% of gross. Maybe fine him a little for trying to walk through the airport with all that cash. But he should at least walk away with about $30k – definitely not empty handed. That would be just heartless beyond imagining.

Hmm. I think I’ll skip my latte today.

Anonymous said...

I think that the IRS, customs, and whomever else is responsible for the seizure of this mans money should be ashamed of themselves. Many americans were victim to the machine that makes up our government… this guy washed frickin’ dishes to save up 59k. Do any of you have any idea what its like to save up that kind of money over 11 years with making only ~$5/hr? And to do this by washing dishes?!

Dear Customs and IRS - grow a heart and give this poor guy his money back.

D said...

There is an awful lot of ignorance and many bad analogies floating around this thread; however, to make Cliff Vegas' math discussion even more compelling, this guy would actually need to pay far less tax than most people have in their minds (ie. he didn't rip you hard working citizens off as much as you think), and trust me when I say, the IRS would never bother sending him to jail for tax evasion because from a cost/benefit analysis it is just not justifiable and would end up costing tax payers even more money!

Working full time this guy would have been making approximately 12k/year which means roughly that he would be taxed 10% on the first $8k and 15% on the remaining $4k. That means he should have been paying just over $1k/year or $11k for all the years he was here working (and that is with no exemptions whatsoever).

What about the homeless that don't pay taxes on the little money they make? Do they deserve to go to jail? Well this guy was living in poverty level conditions, so that is a double standard right there.

From pretty much any ethical perspective this guy should be deported but deserves to get the money he is due (minus expenses). Cause and effect. If illegal immigrants like this guy were not in the country some of you commenting out there would have paid a lot more for numerous items such as your house, your Wal-Mart items, your groceries, and many other items that you don't even realize an illegal immigrant had some connection to).

Additionally, the illegal immigrants that are here in the U.S., whether they be from Mexico or another country, typically send remitances back to their families and villages and it accounts for billions of untraced dollars flowing out of our economy each year, and although this is not good, the government does nothing to stop the outflow; so why should they in this case?

If anyone here can provide a factual and sound argument against what I have just stated please do so and I will be happy to acknowledge it, but for now there are too many opinions, emotions, and too much ingnorance for me to even bother responding.

Obviously this guy wasn't too smart, he could have successully moved that money a number of different ways had he known to do so...the reaction should not be to crush him, but to realize that most reading this (and commenting) are more educated and fortunate, and have lives that are 1000 times as well off as this guys and his family's lives will ever be, and that he should be entitled to the money he spent 11 years making (minus taxes).

For reference, those interested should look into a few ethical theories. In particular, Utilitarianism, Aristotelian ethics, and Rawls' Veil of Ignorance. These are great tools for every day decisions and Wikipedia should have nice summaries into each perspective.

Anonymous said...

Yes, he was in the country illegally, but all of his income statements have been examined by federal authorities, and no one is alleging he stole the money.

He earned it.

He probably kept low so as to avoid being deported, and he was in Florida, so he was probably never required to learn English - which isn't a crime either.

Finally, if a person lives close to sheer survival they can save up that money in eleven years.

So the real question isn't whether it was his money - it is.

The question is whether he should give to Ceasar what obviously isn't Ceasar's.

He should be made to pay the taxes he never paid on his meager income - if he were a citizen he'd be eligible for an earned income tax credit, and we'd probably be giving him thousands of dollars in refunds - but in reality he'll probably owe a few thousand at most.

Then if there's any fine associated to trying to take his money out of the country he should pay those too, because in the end he should have done something to try to learn English - if only for his own protection.

But to keep this money, from a hard working man who scrimped and saved for eleven years - that's horrible, and wrong.

It's actually stealing, and our government shouldn't do this to anyone.

And yes he should be deported, he's here illegally, but we need to give him his money before he goes.

Anonymous said...

If you were US District Judge James I. Cohn, what would you have done? It's clear that laws were broken. What penalties should Mr. Pedro Zapeta have had applied in the delivery justice for his failure to file the correct form and tax evasion infractions?

In pursuing this case, Judge Cohn had a choice, a criminal or a civil proceeding. Clearly, everyone who feels like Mr. Zapeta is guilty of something here would agree this should have tried as a criminal matter. Had he been found for a criminal violation, the fine would have been up to $5000 on the matter of the form.

Judge Cohn, however, instead chose to try this as a civil matter. What's the liklihood he knew enough about the case in advance to suspect Mr. Zapeta's guilt? Hard to say. We would like to beleive our federal judges are honest and ethical and are commited to delivering justice. What Judge James I. Cohn did know in advance, and very well to be sure since this is the essence of his job, was that the damages Mr. Zapeta faced as a civil defendent against the government were vastly higher.

This is injustice, not justice.

As to the taxes, an appropriate claim for taxes due could have filed by the IRS. Even the additional punitive charges for failure to file/pay could have been applied. Damages would still not equate to the justice Mr. Pedro Zapeta has received as a result of this civil suit.

If anyone disagrees with this ruling of US District Judge James I. Cohn, they should let the Judge Cohn know what they think. They should hold him accountable.

After a quick google search, this is the phone number to his office. You can leave him a voice mail by dialing:


and then pressing 6

Or you could write him, this is his address:

299 East Broward Boulevard, 203F
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33301

This is a Federal Judge, he works for you.

Let him now how you feel.

JeromeProphet said...

This blog post received quite a few comments. As it turns out it was "Sphere'd" on CNN.Com, and many early morning visits, and comments resulted.

It then moved off of Sphere's rotation, and all incoming visits from CNN.Com ceased.

However, soon Technorati soon posted this story high in its search results, and the rest of the day this post received many visits, and some additional comments from those coming in from Technorati.

My take is that this story hit a nerve. Those people who are connecting with their feelings about illegal immigrants through this story tend to want Pedro to be punished, while those viewing him as a single person, and not a cause want Pedro's money returned.

I can't see Pedro as a cause, but I do see him as a victim, and want his life's savings returned to him right before someone puts him on a flight home.


getreal said...

After so many years, i can't believe that there are still such ignorant people in this country. This situation don't surprise me one bit. This country is greedy. The man came here with the intentions to make honest money, which he did, and then he was gonna take it back home to help his family. Wheres the crime? Who was he hurting?? Nobody. Did he kill anyone while washing dishes?? no i dont think so. So whats the problem? Give the man his money and let him be on his way. This wasn't drug money, he wasn't selling anything illegal to earn this money. Americans sell drugs. Americans commit rape. Americans commit hate crimes. This counrty's legal system is so messed up! But you want to focus on this man for trying to save money for his family? get a life.

Anonymous said...

For the person who asked how Pedro was able to save the $59,000. He lived in a room in a house, and his living expenses were probably very little. If you do that math, he probably earned about $148,000 over the 13 years he was in America. Therefore, he saved about 40% of his money and spent about 60% of his money. That is very reasonable. Give Pedro his hard earned money back!!

babz said...

to all the morons who claims to be a proud 'american' (but have been migrated themselves thru their great great grand parents), i gotta tell u this, do u have any idea how hard its to save 59 G in 11 years? i will bet my life that this dude never went out to eat in a restaurant or never went to the movies or any other recreation. all he did is work and get back home. its really mean and greedy to confiscate his money. shame shame

Anonymous said...

If you want to help this poor man, please go to:

let's help this poor guy !!

Anonymous said...

Give Pedro's money back, that's it.

Michael Bane said...

I empathize with Pedro Zapeta but feel the government was right to confiscate his money.

In the whole illegal immigration debate, the proposed solutions never address the true cause of the problem - namely, removing the economic incentive for these people to come here in the first place. If Pedro Zapeta gets back the money, it will defeat the whole purpose of trying to deter people from entering the country illegally.

jonathan said...

I have had many jobs in the past and I have met many people of different races in my past. And currently I have found myself wondering...."what is wrong with this country" What is wrong with our people. We were once a nation that embraced its cultural differences. And now as I drive down the streets I come across bumper stickers and signs telling me that I am in America and I should talk English! I mean come on people we were a country that was raised by the sweat off the immigrant’s brow! Down here in Florida I come across countless migrant workers and, yes most of them are illegal, but I have never seen a harder working more humble group ever in my life. I would love to see your average "American" out there in the fields as the sun is beating down on your back picking tomatoes, squash, or what ever the hell is in season. We are a country that has grown fat a complacent on the backs of these people that have come from countries that have had nothing! Nothing at all. And they come here for a better life a chance for their children. They see a golden opportunity here that their countries can not afford to give for what ever reason. I find these workers to be now the true Americans! they are the ones striving to make a better life....they are the ones that are improving themselves and their families every day slowly but surely us home grown "natives" just sit back on our ass's and waddle through the supermarket buying produce that they picked for us to eat. A for you nay sayers out there who may say I might not have a proper perspective about my views. First of all piss off, and furthermore I am only 25 and I have already seen a good chunk of the world. From the decadent high rises in Thailand to the slums of Peru I have seen how the world is. And let me tell you the world is laughing at us now. What petty actions we take against not just this man but everything we do, is shown on the world stage. And the rest of the world is waiting to see what we do next. Our next blunder our next near fanatical fascination with some Celeb. Were did we go wrong, were are the leaders that we once had that seemed to have a mission a goal a shiny bright future, if you will. We are no longer a super power we are a has been, we are simply a child that has been given the keys to the SUV and the proud proper parents of our past have left the house for the weekend....oh yeah and we also fired the maid cause

Shirley Solis said...

If you really want to help Pedro, do not go to I think it's a scam. These are the instructions that his lawyer wrote to me on donations for Pedro:
"the best way is to send the donation to my office, and i will deposit the funds into my trust, and thereafter disburse same to pedro. address: 1675 palm beach lakes blvd, 7th floor, west palm beach, fla. 33401; tel. 561-684-8898. the check may be made payable to me or pedro; no matter, it will all be deposited for pedro's benefit. thank you for your interest. robert gershman, attorney for pedro zapeta."

economist said...

This guy would have paid a minimal amount of taxes since he made a minimal amount of income. In fact,I would not be surprised if he were eligible for an earned income tax credit if he did file taxes. (The EITC is a poverty program that gives money to low wage individuals.) So if he didn't file, he probably saved the taxpayers some money.

He certainly paid sales taxes and property taxes (which renters pay indirectly through their rent). So he probably paid for any local services he received. And studies indicate that illegal immigrants are much less likely to be involved in crime or use public health services than ordinary citizens. So frankly he probably used less local services than he paid for.

In the possible event he used a false Social Security number, he would have paid social security taxes and medicare taxes, again for services that he never would receive.

Why are American's such fools about the immigration issue?

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