Rwandan man gets 8 years in jail for lying in asylum bid about role in 1994 genocide

A Rwandan man was sentenced to more than eight years in federal prison Monday after he was convicted of deceiving immigration officials about his involvement in his nation's 1994 genocide, the deadliest the world had seen since World War II.

Prosecutors said that Jean Leonard Teganya, 47, participated in at least seven murders and five rapes during the genocide, in which Hutu extremists slaughtered Tutsis and Hutus who tried to protect them. Approximately 800,000 people were murdered during the 100-day bloodletting.

U.S. District Court Judge F. Denis Saylor IV sentenced Teganya to 97 months in prison in Boston federal court Monday after a jury convicted him in April of two counts of immigration fraud and three counts of perjury. The judge also found that Teganya had also obstructed justice by committing perjury in his trial testimony. Teganya will face removal proceedings after serving his sentence, authorities say.

“Based on the evidence admitted at trial, the defendant committed horrendous crimes during the Rwandan genocide and then sought to deceive U.S. immigration authorities about his past," U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said in a statement. "Especially in the context of genocide, American laws exist to protect the persecuted – not the persecutors,"

In 1994, Teganya was a medical student who belonged to the Hutu-dominated MRND political party, which the Justice Department described as a "genocidal regime." During the genocide, authorities said, Teganya helped soldiers find Tutsis who were hiding at a hospital in Butare so they could be killed or raped, and participated in some of those killings and rapes himself.

He fled Rwanda after the genocide ended and went to Canada, where he was denied refugee status because of his role in the massacre, prosecutors said. He was arrested by U.S. border agents in 2014 when he illegally crossed into Maine and claimed asylum, authorities say.

On his asylum application, authorities said, Teganya concealed his membership in the MRND and falsely claimed he had not persecuted any Tutsis.

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Prosecutors had asked the judge to give Teganya 20 years in prison, claiming that he not only lied on his asylum application but also in court, painting his victims as the liars and dressing "himself in the garb of the persecuted rather than the persecutor."

"These are the most significant, most corrosive, most morally culpable lies possible," Garland said. "They deserve the most serious penalty."

Jean Leonard Teganya is seen in this undated photo.U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts/Handout via REUTERS

Jean Leonard Teganya is seen in this undated photo.U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts/Handout via REUTERS

Teganya's public defender, Scott Lauer, requested that his client receive about five years behind bars. In court documents, Lauer described Teganya as a religious father of two who has led a "quiet and unassuming life" over the past 25 years. Lauer also noted that Teganya was not charged with any of the crimes attributed to him during the genocide.

"It is not the place of this court to transform itself into a tribunal to punish that conduct," Lauer said.

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Saylor said he struggled with his sentencing decision, noting the enormity of the tragedy and the allegations against Teganya, but also that the man was not charged in his courtroom of the rapes and murders.

"The basic question is: Do I sentence him as a liar or do I sentence him as a murder, or a rapist, or genocide participant?" Saylor asked.

Saylor said he ultimately believed the appropriate prison term was within the sentencing guidelines for the crimes with which Teganya was convicted.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.