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Monday, November 27, 2006

Stuck in the Bedford Heights jail

Posted By on Mon, Nov 27, 2006 at 2:50 PM

Zoltan Olah is about as American a name as Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Written on a piece of paper, it'd probably set off an airport metal detector. Olah came to Cleveland from Hungary in 1994 seeking asylum. Five years later, he got married. By then, he and a friend had a roofing business restoring antique houses in the city's near-eastern suburbs. ("Cha-ching," in any language.) He had everything, it seemed, but his green card. Now Olah's in a detention center in Bedford Heights, waiting for the day our government puts him on a plane ride all the way back to Hungary. And his wife, Cari, says one person's to blame: their lawyer, noted immigration attorney Margaret Wong. (For some small idea how much she loves herself, take a drive east from downtown on Chester. Around the 3600 block you'll see "MWW" on a tall white building.) Four years ago, the Immigration and Naturalization Service sent Olah a letter asking him to leave the country voluntarily. The Olahs consulted Wong, who asked for $20,000. Then she assigned Zoltan's case to an intern, who filed his appeal two days past deadline. "A few days won't make a difference," they were told. After they quickly received a second letter — this one minus the "voluntary" — they called Wong again. She suggested they file a second appeal, this time based on their marriage. Three years passed without incident. Zoltan still didn't have his green card, but because the letters had stopped coming they assumed their appeal had just been delayed. The roofing business grew and was bought up by a larger company in Columbus. Cari started her own clothing line, a job that required her to travel more and more. So Zoltan decided on his own to return to Hungary, at least for a while. He called Wong and relayed his plans. He was packing his bags when INS agents arrested him. Cari's convinced Wong's office tipped them off. "He's been in the country four more years without the INS finding him," says Cari. "She knows when he's leaving. She knows what his plane ticket says. She knows everything that's going on because he's being honest with her." Not surprisingly, Wong's office isn't returning her calls. "But she wants more money to get him out," says Cari. After several stints on hold, two staff attorneys put C-Notes on speakerphone. They said "they'd be happy" to contact Zoltan at the detainment center to see if he'd be willing to talk to us. Just not voluntarily. —Jason Nedley
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