Public Safety

Suspect in Mollie Tibbetts' slaying did not have state ID or license, Iowa DOT says

Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 24, arrives for his initial appearance on a charge of first-degree murder during at the Poweshiek County Courthouse in Montezuma, Iowa, on Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018. Rivera is accused of killing University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 24, arrives for his initial appearance on a charge of first-degree murder during at the Poweshiek County Courthouse in Montezuma, Iowa, on Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018. Rivera is accused of killing University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

The Iowa Department of Transportation said Thursday a review of its records show the suspect in Mollie Tibbetts’ slaying was not issued a state ID card or driver’s license.

Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 24, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of 20-year-old Mollie Tibbetts, a rising University of Iowa sophomore who disappeared from Brooklyn, Iowa, more than a month ago.

Investigators with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation announced Rivera’s arrest Tuesday, after he allegedly confessed to the crime and led authorities to Tibbetts’ body in a cornfield in rural Poweshiek County.

In a statement issued Thursday, the DOT said it used facial recognition and name searches to verify Rivera had not been issued a state ID or driver’s license under the name Cristhian Rivera or any other name.

Rivera is an undocumented immigrant, according to DCI, raising questions as to how he came to be employed at Yarrabee Farms, a family-owned dairy farm in Brooklyn.

Rivera’s attorney, Allan Richards, insisted in a motion filed with the Poweshiek County District Court on Wednesday that his client is in the U.S. legally, pointing to Rivera’s employment at Yarrabee Farms as proof.

However, farm owners Dane Lang and his father, Craig — a prominent Iowa Republican — told reporters Wednesday during a news conference that Rivera had given them a false name and Social Security number that did not trigger any alarms when they verified his information with the Social Security Administration.

To date, not much is known about Rivera.

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Richards said Rivera came to the United States as a minor, and a search of court records indicate he had no criminal history in Iowa before being charged in Tibbetts’ death.

Officials said Rivera has been in the U.S. for about seven years, and Mitch Mortvedt, assistant director of field operation with DCI, said he lived in a mobile home on the Yarrabee Farms property where he had been employed for about four years, according to the Des Moines Register. Rivera gained employment at the farm through a former girlfriend, the Register reported.

Rivera made his first court appearance in Poweshiek County District Court on Wednesday where a judge set a $5 million cash-only bond and scheduled a preliminary hearing for Aug. 31.

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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