A federal judge Wednesday issued a bench warrant for a Los Angeles-based Ethiopian diplomat who apparently fled back to her country rather than face visa fraud charges that could put her behind bars for several decades.
Dr. Desta Woldeyohannes Delkasso, is an Ethiopian national who — until leaving the United States about two weeks ago — was assigned to the Ethiopian government’s Consulate General as the Deputy Consul General in Los Angeles, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Delkasso, 54, is charged in a three-count indictment stemming from the alleged use of non-immigrant diplomatic visas for family members who did not qualify under federal regulations. If convicted, she could face up to 30 years in federal prison, according to prosecutors.
At the start of a scheduled status conference in the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lana Morton-Owens requested that the judge issue a bench warrant for the missing defendant, telling the court that Delkasso had purchased a one-way ticket to Ethiopia and had flown home.
“Based on the information, she has no intention of coming back,” Morton-Owens said.
U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee granted the request, ruling that under the circumstances, “I do think that a bench warrant is appropriate.”
Morton-Owens explained to the court that Delkasso was under no pretrial restrictions, based on her job as a diplomat, although a third party had promised to pay $10,000 if the defendant did not meet her court obligations.
Defense attorney Kelly Swanston told the judge that she had been aware that her client had returned to Ethiopia, but indicated that she expected Delkasso to return to Los Angeles. Gee rejected her request for a continuance in the status conference.
Swanston declined comment outside the courtroom.
Delkasso, who faces three counts of visa fraud, is accused of falsely stating that her brother and his wife were “single” and “fully supported by her” and that their minor child was her “son,” according to the indictment filed in June in Los Angeles federal court.
According to the document, Delkasso caused the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to send letters required for the visas to the Embassy of the United States in July and August 2016, stating that she would be accompanied by family members who would stay in Los Angeles until the end of the diplomatic term. The letters stated that her nephew was her “son” and that her brother and sister-in-law were her “dependents,” according to federal prosecutors, who said they were then issued A-1 diplomatic visas to enter the United States based on that information.
However, according to prosecutors, Delkasso’s brother and his son have lived in Washington, D.C., since their arrival in the United States, and as alleged in the indictment, never resided in Los Angeles.
Morton-Owens said prosecutors would now ask the Ethiopian government to send Delkasso back to face trial.