A judge on Friday sentenced a man to serve nearly five years in federal prison for lying on his citizenship application after prosecutors said he failed to disclose he was a guard at a detention camp during the Bosnian War.
A jury in May convicted Mladen Mitrovic of giving false answers on his naturalization application form. Mitrovic said on that application in 2002 that he hadn't ever persecuted anyone because of race, religion or national origin.
But federal prosecutors said he beat and tortured Muslim prisoners while serving as a guard in the Trnopolje detention camp in the spring and summer of 1992. He then lied about his violent past and his military service to get refugee status, and ultimately citizenship, in the United States, prosecutors said.
Mitrovic, 55, has been living just outside Atlanta with his wife and two sons since coming to the U.S. in 1997.
U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg sentenced him to serve four years and nine months in prison. She also granted prosecutors' request to revoke his citizenship and said he would likely be deported after he serves his prison sentence.
Mitrovic's attorneys have said they will appeal, and the judge granted their request to put the order revoking his citizenship on hold until the appeal process is complete.
The sentencing guideline for a conviction for lying on a naturalization application is zero to six months in prison. Mitrovic's attorneys had asked for a sentence at the low end of that range, saying that his conviction means he will likely be deported and separated from his wife and children.
"I think that punishment is commensurate with the crime," defense attorney Jeff Ertel said. "If you lie to obtain citizenship, you're going to be deported."
But prosecutor Christina Giffin argued the deportation and separation from his family was a consequence and not a punishment. She argued for a sentence of five years and 11 months, citing an amendment to the sentencing guidelines that provides for a much longer sentence if lies told during the naturalization process were meant to conceal the applicant's participation in a serious human rights offense.
Prosecutors referenced trial witnesses, including a Muslim former prisoner who testified that Mitrovic carved a cross into his chest and another who said he suffered severe injuries after Mitrovic beat him until he became unconscious.
Defense attorneys said Mitrovic was never a guard at the camp and didn't persecute or torture anyone and that numerous defense witnesses testified he wasn't a guard. His attorneys also said they had presented documentation that shows he was of Croatian descent, which they said means he couldn't have served in the Serbian military unless he signed an oath of allegiance and there was no evidence he had.
Speaking through an interpreter, Mitrovic told the judge how he came to the United States in 1997 to escape the ravages of war in his country and talked about how hard he worked to succeed and make a better life for his children.
"After working and living in the United States for 20 years, I have proven what kind of person I am and what kind of citizen I am," he said.
Totenberg reflected on the tragedy of the Bosnian War and how rapidly the situation devolved and the tragic effects that had on people who lived there. But she said that while she was concerned by the validity of some of the evidence presented by prosecutors, she found there was enough to prove that Mitrovic had been involved in actions that deprived people of their human rights.
Totenberg said she recognized that Mitrovic had made a good life in the U.S. under challenging circumstances and had done a good job raising his two sons, who both asked the judge for leniency, "but it doesn't wash away what has occurred."