A Farmington family frantically contacted the Eyewitness News I-Team as their husband and father sits in jail waiting to be deported.
They said he should be used as an example of how a person can turn their life around, but instead, the second chance, which he got eight years ago, is tearing their family apart.
Since early November, Tony Lococo has been locked up in a facility in Massachusetts after being stopped by federal immigration agents moments after he dropped his 5-year-old daughter at kindergarten.
The feds want to deport him because he's not a United States citizen, and though he's in the country legally, he committed what's known as an aggravated felony and that means he can no longer stay in America.
"Is it easy to stop these proceedings once the ball gets rolling? It's extremely difficult to stop because there's no defense to this, there's no defense to deportation," said attorney Anthony Collins of Collins & Martin, who is Lococo's lawyer. We are trying to undo what happened over eight years ago."
Lococo was arrested on drug charges after being found with crack cocaine in three plastic baggies. His wife, who met him shortly after the arrest, said he pleaded guilty in exchange for getting a slot in a drug treatment program.
The program helped him kick his drug addiction, and she said he turned his life around.
"Addiction is a horrible disease and most people don't beat it. And this is one of the cases where the court actually gave my husband a chance and he took the chance and it's actually worked for him," said Karen Lococo of Farmington. "He did everything he needed to do and he continues to do everything he needs to do."
Karen Lococo said her husband has an addiction to drugs, but never sold them. Police reports found by the I-Team back up those claims.
However, Tony Lococo pleaded guilty to sale of narcotics, and the transcript of the hearing shows he did so to get a 6-month inpatient bed in a drug-treatment program.
The transcript also shows that on the original possession charges, prosecutors weren't even seeking jail time at all.
"He was going to be able to go to treatment and that's why he plead guilty," Karen Lococo said. "He had no idea that eight years down the road immigration would be a part of this."
However, the transcript of the plea hearing shows that judge Bradford Ward did give Tony Lococo, who was born in Australia to Italian parents, the warning that's given to all defendants who plead guilty to the charges.
"And if you're not a citizen of the United States, conviction could lead to deportation or denial or exclusion of naturalization," Ward said at the hearing. "Do you understand that?"
Tony Lococo, who came to the United States in 1967 and has not been back to Australia since his arrival, responded that he understood the charges.
"The first he probably heard of the immigration part is when the judge said if you're not a citizen this could happen," Karen Lococo said. "But I don't even think in there it says it's automatic removal from the United States and you can't fight it."
"Did you talk to your lawyer about the immigration consequences?" I think the answer would have been 'no, I didn't, are there,'" Collins said. "I think then it would have been very clear that this means automatic deportation."
Since coming to the United States, Tony Lococo's parents became American citizens, while he never did. He could have applied for citizenship after marrying Karen Lococo, but he never did that either.
Now he's left with few hopes. Collins tried getting a new hearing in front of Ward, so see if the plea could be vacated and Tony Lococo could instead plead guilty to a lesser charge that would at least give him a chance to appeal the deportation order.
Collins said Ward denied that request. Now their only hopes are a long shot appeal in federal immigration court or to get the state to grant Tony Lococo a pardon. Either way, the clock is ticking.
"It usually takes over a year to get a pardon in the state of Connecticut and we don't have that kind of time," Collins said. "What kind of time do you have? We're probably looking at three, four months at the most."
Karen Lococo said she is upset because her husband has been clean for eight years following his arrest. Since the arrest, he has gotten a good job, married and raised a daughter.
"He pled guilty to this eight years ago, so we don't care what you've done since then," said Karen Lococo. "We don't care about your family. We don't care about anything. You're deportable, and that's it."
Tony Lococo's daughter Chloe is old enough told Eyewitness News that she has seen the turnaround in her father from start to finish.
"I saw it with my own eyes, and it's amazing, and it's really unfair that he came this far and now he's being sent back and kind of being punished for turning his life around," she said. "Are you more confident? I'm confident. I'm not going to give up or lose hope because I want him home."
Karen Lococo told Eyewitness News that she is upset that federal authorities waited so long to act.
"We live in Farmington, we have three kids, I have a decent job, my husband has a decent job, my husband has a good job, I was kind of living my dream," she said. "Eight years ago, when my husband made this plea, if they were going to deport him, that's when they should have done it."
Collins called this law absurd and said what happened to Tony Lococo is still happening in courts every day.
There is a United States Supreme Court case that may require judges such as Ward to give more thorough warnings, and there could be a change to state law coming, too.
None of that will help Karen Lococo; time and options are running out. She said that she is planning to move to Australia, if the deportation is not stopped.
"And to sit there and hear them order my husband deported to Australia. I had to get up and leave," said Karen Lococo, who was visibly upset. "Sorry, just because it's amazing to me that one court could give someone a chance and another court could say you know it doesn't matter."
The long-shot immigration appeal and efforts to get a pardon are both underway. They think both will take two to three months, but think Tony Lococo has only about that much time before he's deported.
And they're racing the clock, once Tony Lococo is deported, he can never return to the United States.
Copyright 2013 WFSB (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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