Woman: It was date or deport

Immigration officer charged

Staff writerJuly 17, 2009 

— A Durham-based immigration services officer is accused of threatening to have a Salvadoran woman deported unless she agreed to spend the night with him, according to federal agents who arrested him this week.

Bedri Kulla, 48, of 403 Adelaide Circle in Morrisville, was arrested Wednesday on a charge of blackmail while working in the Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Durham. That office handles applications and petitions for citizenship, work visas and other immigration matters for the Triangle area.

His arrest was based on harassment accusations that Xiomara Blanco, a 23-year-old Salvadoran woman, brought to authorities in April.

She began communicating with Kulla in January through a personals section on the Web site for Univision, the popular Spanish-language television network. After the two met at a mall, Kulla began demanding that she date him and spend the night with him, according to an affidavit written by Special Agent James Panos, an internal investigator with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Kulla wrote in an April 3 e-mail to Blanco, "contact me or i will send immigration to your work."

In another e-mail, he told her, "Immigration has all your information now. It does not mean that they will come today but one day they will come and you will be send back to your country deported. Take this serious and call me if you do not want that this happens to you."

Kulla was released on $1,000 bail Wednesday by a federal judge in Greensboro. On Thursday, Kulla said the blackmail charges were mere allegations.

"The truth will come out," said Kulla, who declined to comment at length.

Kulla, who has worked at the Durham immigration office since June 2008, was previously disciplined for giving his phone number to a woman involved in immigration proceedings, according to Panos' affidavit.

On the univision.com dating profile identified by Panos as belonging to Kulla, Kulla describes himself as a Canadian-born flight attendant who dislikes liars. The profile for bedri9772 is in both English and Spanish.

"I am a professional person," the profile reads. "I am not here to play games, but am looking for that someone special."

According to Panos, Kulla contacted an ICE agent on April 13 and told the agent that, as part of his official duties, he had come across a woman named Xiomara who had a final order of deportation. Kulla then gave the agent Blanco's telephone number.

Another ICE agent recalled a previous referral, described as "unusual," in which Kulla alerted them that a young woman from Latin America was in the country illegally.

Blanco, who could not be reached for comment Thursday, was ordered deported in 2005 but never left the country, according to Panos' affidavit. Last July, however, immigration authorities allowed her to work while she contests the deportation order.

sarah.ovaska@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4622

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