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State officials back aide jailed in 1980s terror case

Friday, September 07, 2007

The Blagojevich administration and top Latino lawmakers are standing behind a high-level aide to the governor who spent time in a federal prison for refusing to help with a terrorist investigation.

Steven Guerra is the governor's deputy chief of staff for community services. He spent 2 years in a federal prison for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury that was investigating bombing attacks by Puerto Rican separatist group Armed Forces of National Liberation, FALN.

The 53-year-old has an exemplary record of community service over the past 20 years. The question now: Should his alleged ties to a violent anti-American terrorist group more than 25 years ago should disqualify him from a $120,000-a-year job in state government?

The Puerto Rican separatist group FALN claimed responsibility for more than 100 bombings in U.S. cities that killed six and injured dozens from 1974 to 1983, including three New York City police officers who were maimed in a 1982 explosion.

Federal investigators wanted to question Guerra about the incident. But Guerra, who was 28 at the time, refused to cooperate and spent two years in jail.

"His decision was a matter of conscience and he served his time," said Abby Ottenhoff, the governor's spokeswoman. "He clearly and unequivocally condemns the violence attributed to the FALN."

"Guerra reportedly advocated the violent overthrow of the U.S. government," according to a government informant. After refusing to cooperate in the New York bombing case, he doesn't deserve a big job in state government in the Thompson Center, according to the lead prosecutor. "The FALN bombings are open cases in New York City today. They have not been solved," said Jim Harmon. "Nobody has been held accountable. The police officers that were blinded and maimed cannot put this behind them. They have to live with it every day."

The governor hired Guerra on the recommendation of Congressman Luis Gutierrez, who defends the decision, and State Senator William Delgado, who has known Guerra for decades and watched two of his family members go to prison for FALN activities.

"He was not convicted as an FALN member, was he? He was not convicted for that," said State Sen. William Delgado, (D) Chicago. "And Steven Guerra being some kind of major leader in the Puerto Rican independence movement is- unbelievable."

"I hear Mayor Daley saying we should give former convicted felons a chance to work at city hall. I think the mayor is absolutely correct. I have known Steven for a long time. He is a good man who cares about our state and wants to make it a better place for all of us to live," said Rep. Gutierrez.

The former prosecutor in the New York City bombing case said if Guerra wants to close the book on the incident, he should voluntarily tell the FBI and the NYPD what he knows about the explosion.

Guerra was not available to comment, but the governor's office said Guerra told them he doesn't know anything about it and he refused to testify because he viewed prosecution of the FALN as a "McCarthy-like witch hunt."

(Copyright ©2014 WLS-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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