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James Randi and Deyvi Orangel Pena Arteaga (aka Jose Alvarez)

Randi’s Partner Avoids Prison

In the sentencing hearing for James Randi’s long-time companion Deyvi Pena (aka ‘Jose Alvarez’) today after his conviction on a charge of identity theft, the judge declared his desire to imprison Pena for two years, saying his actions constituted “a serious crime that deserved punishment.”

However, by the end of the hearing, the magistrate was persuaded to hand down a sentence consisting of six months of house arrest, followed by three years of probation:

Hurley repeatedly said he was concerned about the message it would send to be lenient on Alvarez, whose real name is Deyvi Orangel Pena Arteaga. The judge told Pena he came to court ready to sentence him to two years in prison. But after hearing passionate pleas for mercy and testimonials to Pena’s generous, loving nature, Hurley said, “I am prepared to change that sentence.”

…”I want to express my deepest regrets,” Pena said. “It was never my intention to cause trouble for anyone.”

Randi, 83, a native of Canada, told the story of how he proudly became a naturalized U.S. citizen and cherishes this nation’s freedoms. He said that opportunity was foreclosed to Pena by U.S. immigration policies at the time.

“He was tempest tossed. He was cruelly treated,” Randi told the judge. “This was a crime of desperation in which no one was hurt.”

…Outside the courtroom after the sentencing, a relieved Pena hugged his friends one by one.

As per usual, I think Randi’s being a bit loose with the truth here in saying “no one was hurt” – for instance, the victim of the identity theft reportedly missed his sister’s wedding due to passport problems arising directly from Pena’s actions. However, from all reports Pena is quite a lovely person, and two years in prison may have been a bit of a harsh punishment in my eyes.

Hopefully, given Randi’s somewhat advanced age, the couple can now continue with their life together, though the end of the criminal case now allows for deportation proceedings to possibly be initiated. Pena is hoping to obtain political asylum in the United States based on a fear of persecution for his homosexuality back in his native Venezuela.

And I guess the other question that many would like answered, once again, is “when did Randi know?”

Update: A couple of recent court documents have been posted online, notably the defense’s Sentencing Memorandum and Request for Variance” and an appendix of personal testimonials from the likes of Randi, Penn & Teller, and Richard Dawkins vouching for Jose Alvarez. The latter document sheds some interesting light on things such as Randi’s financial position (“a shambles” in 2010, largely due to being allegedly fleeced by a contractor renovating his house, damaged in a hurricane in 2005) and the generosity of Randi and Alvarez/Pena to others (paying for flights, funerals etc. for friends and family unable to afford them). On a sidenote, the testimonial of Richard ‘Rick’ Adams also leads me to believe that he is the likely owner of the Archimedes Palimpsest, and benefactor of the JREF, that I (probably wrongly) guessed previously as being Jeff Bezos.

See also:

  1. The laws are lenient when you’re a celebrity

    However, from all reports Pena is quite a lovely person, and two years in prison may have been a bit of a harsh punishment in my eyes.

    Yeah, well… US immigration laws are pretty harsh, period. They have broken families and send hard-working honest* persons to jail where they are exposed to the abuse of the gangs controlling the prisons, and then back to their home countries. But I guess those other immigrants don’t have the luxury of having their back covered by the Amazing Randi —pun completely intended.

    (*) As ‘honest’ as Peña was when he lied about his legal status that is, yet having used that one trespassing to work hard in search for a better life.

  2. In the Event of a Fine Would the Judge Have Change of a $1m Bond
    ‘Generous’? ‘Loving nature’? Aren’t these the sort of things said by the bereft of mediums who’ve transmitted them consoling messages from the ‘other side’?

    And if Pena/Alvarez’d had a name suggestive of Middle Eastern or Islamic provenance would this case’ve panned out very very differently?

  3. Jose Alvarez – now what?
    I find this whole story fascinating. I hope 20/20 or Dateline has been covering it. I’ve seen a couple of entries on the JREF forum thread pertaining to this topic from someone who claims to be a family member of the real Jose Alvarez and that a civil action is in the works. He/she hasn’t been very specific but I’m wondering: can Randi be named in the suit as well since it seems obvious he knew of the fraud all along?

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