An illegal immigrant from Mexico charged with murdering Mollie Tibbetts, the Iowa college student who vanished for weeks before being found dead on Aug. 21, worked at a farm in the state for years and passed the federal e-verify system, the farm owner said.
Dane Lang, co-owner of Yarrabee Farms, said in a statement that Cristhian Bahena Rivera worked for his farm for four years.
“This is a profoundly sad day for our community. All of us at Yarrabee Farms are shocked to hear that one of our employees was involved and is charged in this case,” Lang said in a statement read during a press conference, reported the Des Moines Register.
“This individual has worked at our farms for four years, was vetted through the government’s E-Verify system, and was an employee in good standing. On Monday, the authorities visited our farm and talked to our employees. We have cooperated fully with their investigation. Yarrabee Farms follows all laws related to verifying employees are legal to work in the United States, and we regularly seek outside counsel to ensure we stay up to date on employment law matters.”
He added, “We keep records on all employees and have shared that information with authorities. We appreciate the hard work of law enforcement officials. We will continue to cooperate with authorities as the investigation moves forward.”
The specifics of how Rivera, 24, passed the e-verify system haven’t been revealed, but a report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration released in 2017 stated that illegal immigrants steal hundreds of thousands of legal identities to gain employment.
Officials said in a press conference on Tuesday night that Rivera was charged with first-degree murder.
Investigators said that he’s being held on a federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer.
Alleged Killer Claimed to ‘Black Out’
“We have confirmed with Homeland Security investigations that he is an illegal alien, and we believe that [Rivera] has been in this area now for four to seven years,” said Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Rick Rahn said during the press conference.
Rahn said that as Tibbetts, 20, jogged on July 18 just outside of Brooklyn, Iowa, the college student’s hometown, Rivera stopped his vehicle, got out, and began running alongside or behind her, prompting Tibbetts to try to sprint away from the man in fear.
Rivera claimed to “black out” around that point. He later took investigators to Tibbetts’s body, which was in a cornfield with corn stalks placed on top of it.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a statement after Rivera was arrested that she passed on her condolences to Tibbetts’s family.
About the alleged killer being an illegal immigrant, she added, “As Iowans, we are heartbroken, and we are angry. We are angry that a broken immigration system allowed a predator like this to live in our community, and we will do all we can bring justice to Mollie’s killer.”
Iowa does not have the death penalty; a conviction of first-degree murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.