SAN FRANCISCO — Ride-sharing company Lyft said Tuesday that it’s investigating how a former driver now charged in a series of rapes passed a background check even though federal immigration officials say the suspect was living in the country illegally.
The San Francisco district attorney’s office charged Orlando Vilchez Lazo, 36, with raping four women while posing as a ride-share driver in San Francisco.
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Lyft spokeswoman Kate Margolis said the company is investigating Lazo’s employment history.
She said company officials “have no reason to believe these incidents occurred” while the suspect was on duty.
Margolis didn’t respond to requests for the timeframe of the suspect’s employment with the company. Company officials told other media outlets Vilchez Lazo was “deactivated” as a Lyft driver last week after his arrest.
Margolis also said it appears Vilchez Lazo “fraudulently represented himself” in applying to drive for Lyft and passing its background check despite his immigration status. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency said Tuesday that Vilchez Lazo was living in the United States illegally.
San Francisco district attorney spokesman Alex Bastian said investigators are also looking into the suspect’s work history with Lyft. Vilchez Lazo was originally charged with impersonating a ride-share driver.
ICE said it plans to deport Vilchez Lazo to his native Peru if he’s ever released from custody on the rape case.
The charges he faces carry a maximum sentence of life in prison. And on Tuesday, a judge revoked bail and ordered Vilchez Lazo to remain jailed while awaiting trial, which hasn’t been scheduled.
ICE also said it formally asked the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department on Friday to detain Vilchez Lazo for federal immigration custody in the unlikely event he is ordered released from jail.
Vilchez Lazo was arrested last week on multiple allegations, including four counts of felony rape.
Deputy public defender Eric Quandt is expected to be formally appointed to represent Vilchez Lazo when he is arraigned Thursday.
“ICE has made this case about sanctuary laws and immigration status, and that has nothing to do with the charges that are being brought by the district attorney,” Quandt told reporters outside court.
ICE officials said they believe its detainer request will be ignored because San Francisco’s so-called sanctuary city policy bars local authorities from cooperating with most deportation efforts.
ICE officials criticized San Francisco’s immigration policy, which has also been adopted in scores of cities and counties across the nation. The policy “not only provides a refuge for illegal aliens, but it also shields criminal aliens who prey on people in the community,” ICE spokesman Richard Rocha said.
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San Francisco sheriff’s spokeswoman Nancy Crowley said the department didn’t have a response to ICE’s request to detain the suspect “because there is nothing to respond to.”
Crowley said the suspect “isn’t going anywhere anytime soon” and if he’s convicted, he will be sent to prison.
“ICE asked us to notify them when he’s released,” Crowley said. “The individual is going to be in jail for some time.”
President Donald Trump made opposition to sanctuary city laws one of his main campaign themes. Trump took particular aim at San Francisco’s policy after a man who federal authorities say was living in the country illegally was charged with shooting to death Kate Steinle in July 2015.
The San Francisco sheriff’s department ignored an ICE request to detain Jose Ines Garcia Zarate after local marijuana charges were dropped several weeks before Steinle was shot while walking on a popular pedestrian pier with her father.
A jury acquitted Garcia Zarate of murder and homicide charges after he said the gun that killed Steinle accidentally fired when he found it under the pier bench he was sitting on.
Garcia Zarate is now in federal custody after the US Attorney’s Office charged him with two illegal gun possession counts.
He has pleaded not guilty and faces trial later this year.