With respect to immigration detention, GEO manages 9 such detention centers in the United States plus other immigration facilities abroad, including the Migrant Operations Center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
In 2010, GEO Group received 53% of its domestic business from contracts with the federal government, including 20% from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) – the federal agency responsible for overseeing the detention of immigrants awaiting deportation and asylum hearings.
Thus, it is accurate to say that GEO is heavily invested in providing immigration detention services for the federal government, and vice versa.
It is also accurate to say that Wierdsma is a top GEO Group executive. He was hired by GEO as a vice president in January 2007, and according to his employment agreement began working for the company at a base salary of $315,000 per year plus annual performance awards and additional benefits.
Along with other GEO Group officers, Wierdsma has made donations to political candidates and causes in the company’s home state of Florida. In 2011, Wierdsma and his wife, Ann, each gave $2,500 to Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos (each later received a $1,250 refund). The previous year, Thomas Wierdsma contributed $2,000 to the Republican Florida Victory Committee.
According to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, GEO and the company’s subsidiaries and executives contributed almost $830,000 to Florida political candidates, parties and committees during the state’s 2010 election cycle. GEO Group employees also gave thousands of dollars to Haridopolos’ run for the U.S. Senate.
In his capacity as a GEO executive, Wierdsma was well aware of the company’s extensive involvement in immigration detention services and close connections with federal immigration authorities. Thus, it is both odd and disturbing that he apparently told his daughter-in-law, a legal resident immigrant living in the United States, that he was going to report negative information about her to ICE.
That interesting development came about in connection with Wierdsma’s son, Charles Wierdsma. While Thomas Wierdsma is a high-ranking GEO executive, his son, as reflected in court records, is a wife-beater. According to a counterclaim filed against Thomas and Charles Wierdsma in a lawsuit in Boulder County, Colorado in July 2011, Charles “has been arrested and charged as a result of a long history of domestic violence against his wife Beatrix Szeremi.” See: Wierdsma v. Szeremi, County Court for Boulder County (CO), Case No. 2011 C 3234.
Szeremi, a legal immigrant from Hungary, lived with Charles in a house owned by Thomas Wierdsma and his wife. According to Szeremi’s sworn counterclaim, Charles violently assaulted her, which required her to go to an emergency room; tried to drown her; choked her; and falsely imprisoned her.
Charles Wierdsma was arrested on May 29, 2011 on charges of 3rd degree assault and false imprisonment after he allegedly attacked Szeremi, and a temporary restraining order (TRO) was issued that barred him from contacting her. Another TRO was issued in June 2011 while Szeremi filed for divorce.
Meanwhile, Thomas Wierdsma tried to remove Szeremi from the house where she had been residing with Charles. Because only Charles’ name was included on the lease, Thomas Wierdsma named both his son and Szeremi as defendants in an eviction lawsuit filed in Boulder County Court – a suit that Szeremi’s lawyer called “meritless.”
On June 6, 2011, Szeremi’s attorney, Dave Rich, emailed Thomas Wierdsma, who had been contacting Szeremi, and informed him that he represented Szeremi and “it would be best that all communications from you be addressed to me and I will relay information to Beatrix as appropriate.”
Despite that notification, on June 21, 2011, Wierdsma sent an email to Szeremi in which he wrote, “Should I send eviction notices to you or your attorney? Not sure who is representing you for this matter. I understand that you currently have no plans to move out of our home. I will be copying the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement with this and other information. So you know, I funded the legal work and processing fees for you to become a citizen, but am now disappointed in your actions which now require legal proceedings.”
Szeremi filed her counterclaim against Charles and Thomas Wierdsma on July 8, 2011, which stated that Thomas Wierdsma’s “threats and attempts to trigger a sham deportation proceeding against Ms. Szeremi is designed by him to interfere with her ability to testify against his son. It is important to note that Thomas Wierdsma is a high ranking official in the GEO Group, Inc., a private prison corporation ... with direct involvement with detention and deportation.”
The counterclaim alleged claims of victim intimidation, retaliation, negligence, abuse of process, outrageous conduct and civil conspiracy against Thomas Wierdsma, plus claims of assault, battery, false imprisonment, outrageous conduct, civil conspiracy and negligence against Charles.
According to Szeremi’s attorney, Thomas Wierdsma’s eviction claim against Szeremi was eventually dropped and only her counterclaims against Wierdsma and his son remain in the lawsuit, which is scheduled to go to trial in July 2012.
While all of this may merely seem to be a public airing of the Wierdsmas’ personal dirty laundry, Thomas Wierdsma’s apparent attempt to intimidate or frighten Szeremi, by saying he would notify immigration authorities about his efforts to evict her and send them “other information,” is disturbing and a matter of public concern. This is particularly true given that Wiersdma is a top GEO executive, that GEO Group has close and extensive business relationships with federal immigration authorities, and that the company in fact operates immigration detention centers – including the Aurora Detention Facility in Colorado, the state where Szeremi, herself an immigrant, resides.
Knowing this, Wierdsma’s email informing Szeremi that he intended to send negative information about her to ICE is indicative of extremely poor judgment, a sense of impunity due to his lofty position at GEO, or both. Further, the fact that GEO Group employs a top executive who exercises such faulty judgment, and who apparently tries to use GEO’s business relationship with federal immigration authorities to pressure or intimidate a family member, reflects poorly on the company.
Charles Wierdsma was indicted on a new set of charges in July 2011, including 1st, 2nd and 3rd degree assault, felony menacing and harassment; those charges related to offenses committed against Szeremi from November 2009 through May 31, 2011. The first set of charges was subsequently dismissed. Charles pleaded guilty to a felony charge of attempted 2nd degree assault on September 2, 2011, and was sentenced the following month to 60 days in jail and two years on probation.
Neither GEO Group nor Thomas Wierdsma responded to PLN’s requests for comments for this article.
Additional sources: www.geogroup.com, Boulder County DA’s office
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