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Charges dismissed on former LR teacher

 

Guillermo Guzman stands in front of the Okanogan County Courthouse after charges of identity theft and forgery were dismissed Monday. - Scott Hunter photo

After years of court dates and a life put on hold, a former Lake Roosevelt High School Spanish teacher had a burden lifted by Okanogan County Superior Court Monday, when it dismissed charges of identity theft and forgery.

After receiving a call from a woman in California four years ago, Coulee Dam police checked the Social Security number Guillermo Guzman-Romo had used to apply for the Spanish teacher job at Lake Roosevelt High School. It was the same number he'd used as he worked to put himself through the University of Washington, where he earned both a bachelor's and master's degree in education, the same number used in state background checks before he was issued a teaching certificate.

But it wasn't his, although he didn't steal it, Guzman says. He only used his cousin's SSN with permission, he says, explaining that it is a common practice among Mexicans wishing to come to the United States, one that benefits the legitimate holder, who eventually builds up a working history and retirement, added to his account by anyone who has used the number.

He entered the United States illegally in 1992, a dozen years after initially applying for a visa, he says, determined at the time to earn a law degree, return to Mexico and re-open the case of his father's murder when he was 3 years old.

In the intervening years, Guzman, now 47, earned teaching degrees instead, taught at several schools in the state and landed the Coulee Dam job in 2008, the only person who applied for the Spanish teacher position at Lake Roosevelt.

And in 2013 the daughter of his cousin, Guillermo Guzman-Magana, told police she'd found Guzman-Romo's name and photo at The Star Online after Googling it, looking for the person using her father's SSN. He was the teacher of the month at LRHS.

The Internal Revenue Service confirmed to police the SSN didn't belong to Guzman-Romo, who goes by Guzman.

After a maze of court dates and spending some time in jail, Guzman agreed two years ago to pay $500 to the court, abide by court-set conditions and return on April 3, 2017 - for dismissal, if he'd met the conditions.

On Monday, Okanogan County Superior Court Judge Henry Rawson signed the dismissal form and Guzman walked outside with a difficult chapter of his life behind him, and another hearing date looming. His cousin had admitted allowing him to use the number, Guzman said outside the courtroom. When Guzman-Magana and his wife tried to claim SSI benefits, they needed to account for the work history built up by other people, including Guzman-Romo, he said.

With a four-year work permit in hand, Guzman is now free to work until March 2019, when he must report to an immigration court hearing in Seattle to determine if he can stay in the U.S.

He is currently a long-term substitute teacher at the Chief Sealth International High School in Seattle, teaching Spanish 1 and Spanish Immersion 2. He also volunteers as an assistant in the school's Mariachi Music Program.

"Now that this is resolved, I need to sit down and reflect and say, OK ... how do I want to contribute," Guzman said Monday.

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