Public Safety

Federal appeals court upholds immigration fraud conviction of Rwandan man

Judge didn't err in considering his participation in genocide, ruling says

Gervais ‘Ken’ Ngombwa
Gervais ‘Ken’ Ngombwa

CEDAR RAPIDS — A federal appeals court Friday upheld the conviction and sentence of a Cedar Rapids man, who a judge found participated in the 1994 Rwandan genocide and committed immigration fraud in Iowa.  

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit denied the appeal of Gervais “Ken” Ngombwa, 57, a Rwandan national, who was convicted by a federal jury in January 2016 for one count of naturalization fraud; one count of conspiracy to unlawfully procure citizenship; and one count of making a materially false statement to agents of the Department of Homeland Security. 

U.S. District Senior Judge Linda Reade sentenced Ngombwa in March 2017 to 15 years in prison and also revoked his citizenship.

On appeal, Ngombwa challenged the denial for a new trial, claiming his lawyer provided ineffective assistance at trial. He also claimed Judge Reade’s decision at sentencing relied on statements of genocide victims given to investigators in Rwanda, two prior convictions for genocide in the local Rwandan courts and testimony of an expert on the Rwandan genocide who testified during the sentencing.

The appeals court pointed out Ngombwa “told a number of lies” in the course of gaining entry into the United States and for citizenship. The most prominent of lies was his claim that his brother was Faustin Twagiramungu, a moderate Hutu and former Prime Minister of Rwanda. 

According to evidence at trial, Ngombwa also lied about other family relationships in an attempt to get his application approved for relocation as a refugee in 1998 and to later obtain citizenship.

The appeals court noted Ngombwa’s lawyer made strategic decisions as to how to limit the impact of adverse evidence concerning Ngombwa’s false claims regarding his family relationships.

The district court properly applied the sentencing guidelines and properly considered Ngombwa’s participation in the Rwandan genocide, according to the appeal ruling. 

During the sentencing hearing, prosecutors presented testimony about the 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which hundreds of thousands of people from the Tutsi ethnic group were killed. There was also evidence to show that Ngombwa remains under a 2104 indictment in Rwanda for charges of genocide, extermination as a crime against humanity and murder as a crime against humanity.

The defense disputed Ngombwa’s participation in the genocide during trial and in other hearings. Ngombwa claimed he didn’t understand interpreters and authorities at refugee camps.

U.S. Attorney Peter Deegan said in statement “Today’s decision marks the successful conclusion of a remarkable case; one that helped bring a measure of justice to a criminal participant in a horrible chapter in modern human history.” He added that this case is also an important example of why the immigration laws “must be respected and why those who violate them must be held accountable.”

Ngombwa was also convicted in Linn County District Court for setting fire to his Habitat for Humanity home in Cedar Rapids in 2013 and he received probation for insurance fraud in 2017.

He faces deportation back to Rwanda after serving his federal prison term, according to court records. l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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