By Clair McFarland, General Assignment Reporter
The Romanian man accused of stealing a roughly $7,500 bottle of scotch in Jackson could have his charge reduced to a misdemeanor so he can stay in the United States.
Marian Firu, 50, appeared in Jackson Circuit on Thursday for what was initially scheduled as a preliminary hearing on a felony theft charge.
Thefts of more than $1,000 worth of goods in Wyoming are chargeable as felonies and punishable by up to 10 years in prison and $10,000 in fines.
Firu appeared by video link to the hearing, along with a Romanian-English interpreter.
Public defender Elisabeth Trefonas asked the court to postpone the preliminary hearing, and that she likely could secure a reduction in the charge from a felony to a misdemeanor.
Such a charge reduction would make the preliminary hearing unnecessary.
But first, the state’s prosecutors need to confirm with the Liquor Store, the alleged victim in this case, whether the reduced charge is acceptable, said Trefonas.
“A misdemeanor would protect Mr. Firu’s current and pending asylum application,” said Trefonas. “It would qualify as a petty offense exemption under the Immigration Act.”
Immigrants fleeing persecuting home countries can apply for asylum in the United States and live in the nation while their applications are pending. But their applications can be terminated if they commit serious crimes, or crimes of moral turpitude.
Zane Aukee, a Teton County deputy attorney prosecuting the case, said he’d agree to have a change of plea hearing in a few weeks, presumably in anticipation of the lesser misdemeanor conviction.
“That would provide the state the opportunity to ensure that the (scotch) bottle that was stolen is in salable condition,” said Aukee. “And if that’s the case, restitution would not be necessary.”
Jackson Circuit Court Judge James Radda said he would reschedule for a change of plea hearing and arrange for Firu’s interpreter to be present.
According to court documents, Firu was implicated in the theft of a Dalmore 35 Year Scotch valued at $7,449, on Nov. 2 at the Liquor Store in Jackson.
Surveillance captured a man later identified as Firu removing the bottle from the shelf and concealing it in the crotch area of his pants before leaving the store.
About three weeks after the theft, a pregnant Jackson Police Department officer who was familiar with the case spotted Firu panhandling at an intersection in the town.
She recognized him as the man in the Liquor Store surveillance video pertaining to the alleged theft and called another officer to the scene.
The other officer, Paul Jacobson, also was familiar with the surveillance video from investigating the case and arrested Firu.
Jacobson got a Romanian translator on the phone for a police interview. Firu at first declined to speak about the allegations, according to court documents. But while authorities searched him, Firu reportedly said he was guilty and needed a lawyer.
He was taken to the Teton County Detention Center without incident.