Kefelegn Alemu Worku went by the name Tufa or Habteab Berhe Temanu, according to federal agents and federal court documents reviewed by 9Wants to Know. Immigration Customs Enforcement arrested Worku was arrested Aug. 24, but news of his arrest wasn't immediately made public.
ICE agents allege Worku stole an identity and forged his citizenship application to be able to get into the United States. Federal prosecutors charged him with unlawful procurement of citizenship or naturalization and aggravated identity theft. If convicted he could be sentenced to 10 years in prison. It's not clear whether he could be deported back to Ethiopia.
Worku lived in a second-floor apartment at 8861 East Florida Avenue in Arapahoe County, near Florida Avenue and Parker Road.
Girma Baye manages Kozy Café near Havana Street and 1st Avenue, where Worku was a near-daily customer.
"He's about 60-65 years old," Baye said. "He's a very nice guy. He's always fun."
Baye said he was shocked to learn what prosecutors claim is in Worku's past.
ICE agents were tipped off about Worku in May of 2011 after an Ethiopian native who lived in Denver, recognized Worku as a guard in the prison where he was an inmate. The man also told federal agents that he personally watched Worku torture fellow prisoners.
Prosecutors conducted an investigation and now believe Worku worked as a high ranking prison official in the "Higher 15" prison which house about 1,500 political prisoners during the reign of President Mengistu, often referred to the "Red Terror."
"It was a period of systematized, institutionalized terror. It was not random, accidental or a little here or there, it was systematized institutionalized, government sponsored reign of terror," University of Denver Professor Peter Van Arsdale said.
Van Arsdale, who wrote "Forced to Flee: Human Rights and Humans Wrongs in Refugee Homelands," has traveled multiple times to Ethiopia.
As federal investigators looked into Worku's past, they reached other people who also said they recognized Worku from prisons.
"These aren't huge prisons like Supermax or others here in Colorado. These are small buildings out in the courtryside with barbed wire," Van Arsdale told 9Wants to Know investigative reporter Jace Larson.
Investigators say they discovered a news article which indicates a prison guard from Higher 15 named Kefelegn Alemu was sentenced to the death penalty in absentia for executing 101 people.
9Wants to Know discovered a 2001 British Broadcast Corporation article which says the sentence was handed down by the Sixth Criminal Bench of the Federal High Court. It says Kefelegn Alemu was found guilty of ordering, coordinating and participating in the execution of 101 people.
The article does not mention Worku's last name. Van Arsdale, the professor from University of Denver, says it is Ethiopian custom to refer to someone - even the president - by only the first name and not use the last name.
Customs agents discovered Worku used a fraudulent name to immigrate to the United States on July 12, 2004 as a refugee along with four children to live with a fifth child already in the United States.
When agents interviewed the unnamed, fifth child they say he admitted his real father wasn't mentally or physically able to immigrate to the United States. The children were worried their father's health would jeopardize their changes of immigrating to the United States so they recruited Worku to assume the identity of their father in the refugee process.
Worku's public defender told 9Wants to Know Thursday that he is not in a position to comment on the case.
Worku is scheduled to appear for a detention hearing in federal court in Denver Tuesday.
Have a comment or tip for investigative reporter Jace Larson? Call him at 303-871-1432 or e-mail him
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