Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Former NDSCS Athlete Being Deported (The Forum)

Former NDSCS Athlete Being Deported

Amy Dalrymple, The Forum
Published Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A North Dakota State College of Science basketball player who racked up thousands of dollars in international phone bills now faces deportation without the right to a hearing.
Touhami Ghazoul, 21, is being held in the Elk River, Minn., jail until he can be deported to his home country of Algeria, authorities said.
NDSCS faculty member Harvey Henderson called the situation “tragic” because Ghazoul was on track to complete most of his coursework and had an offer to play basketball at the University of Idaho.
The U.S. Border Patrol arrested Ghazoul at NDSCS on an administrative warrant April 23 based on Ghazoul’s theft conviction, said spokeswoman Shelbe Benson.
Ghazoul pleaded guilty in February to a Richland County charge of theft of property, a class A misdemeanor, for charging more than $35,000 to a school-issued calling card.
A judge sentenced Ghazoul to one year in jail, then suspended the sentence except for 10 days Ghazoul had already served.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement considers a theft conviction with a one-year sentence an aggravated felony, said spokesman Tim Counts.
Under federal law, someone with a temporary visa who is convicted of an aggravated felony is deported and does not have the right to a hearing, Counts said.
“You’re welcome to come to the United States as a guest, but if you commit crimes in this country, the deal is off, you go home,” Counts said.
Ghazoul’s deportation could occur in a few days to a few weeks before travel documents are in order and flight arrangements can be made, Counts said on Friday.
Ghazoul could not be reached for comment because jail officials do not deliver messages to inmates.
Former NDSCS coach Steve Irwin gave Ghazoul a school calling card number so he could stay in touch with Ghazoul while the player was at a basketball camp in Oklahoma.
But Ghazoul continued using the number to make national and international calls after he returned home. Court records say he made 395 calls and NDSCS was charged an average of $9.80 per minute.
Ghazoul was suspended from playing basketball and the team was sanctioned by the National Junior College Athletic Association.
“He admits what he did was wrong,” said Henderson, who advises NDSCS international students. “But he had no idea of the dollar amount, I’m sure.”
Henderson said when he met Ghazoul on his first day at NDSCS, the player “had no grasp of the English language.” Today, his reading and writing of English is probably at a fifth- or sixth-grade level, Henderson said.
But Ghazoul worked hard and had nearly completed most of his coursework at the time of his arrest, Henderson said.
Attorney Dan Krassin, who represented Ghazoul on the theft charge, said Ghazoul pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor because the University of Idaho was willing to recruit him as long as he wasn’t convicted of a felony.
A letter of intent signed by Ghazoul and a University of Idaho athletic official from Nov. 14 confirms that he was a recruit for the basketball team.
Idaho assistant coach Mike Score would not comment on Ghazoul.
Irwin, who was suspended from his job and later resigned, declined to comment for this story.
A Web site dedicated to African basketball called Ghazoul “one of the biggest Algerian prospects.”
“We took advantage of a kid who played basketball,” Henderson said. “I felt that ever since he arrived here.”
Krassin said it was his impression that if Ghazoul pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, he would not be deported.
“I think it’s outrageous,” Krassin said of Ghazoul’s arrest. “To me, there are so many other things immigration could be doing than taking someone like this.”
Forum reporter Heath Hotzler contributed to this report.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590

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