Sunday, February 25, 2024

Arrested for stealing a salad, Wilmington mother is now detained in Atlanta facing deportation

Irma Carranza Cruz entered the country illegally in 2006, but hasn't broken the law since then. She has raised a daughter - who is a legal U.S. citizen - in Wilmington with her husband. Recently, Cruz was arrested for stealing a salad from work and - though the charges were dismissed - she is now in a federal detention facility, awaiting a deportation hearing.

Irma Carranza Cruz was arrested after the owner of Famous Toastery of Wrightsville Avenue accused her of stealing a salad. (Port City Daily photo/BENJAMIN SCHACHTMAN)
Irma Carranza Cruz was arrested after the owner of Famous Toastery of Wrightsville Avenue accused her of stealing a salad. (Port City Daily photo/COURTESY PHOTO)

WILMINGTON – A former employee of the Famous Toastery has been in an Atlanta detention facility for around one month after being accused of stealing a salad. Although the theft charges have been dismissed, she now faces deportation to Mexico, leaving behind her 12-year-old daughter, who is a United States citizen.

Irma Carranza Cruz, 43, is currently being held on $20,000 bond by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at Irwin County Detention Center near Atlanta.

According to ICE spokesman Nestor Ygelsias, Cruz is an undocumented immigrant, arrested twice in 2004 by U.S. Border Patrol. Cruz was twice returned to Mexico before re-entering the United States illegally in 2006.

No one disputes Cruz’s immigration status, and both the family and ICE representatives said Cruz will likely be deported after her hearing. But when it comes to how Cruz ended up in ICE custody, there are two different stories.

Felony larceny by employee

Aside from being arrested while attempting to enter the country, Cruz appeared not to have had any run-ins with the law. That changed on Sunday, Feb. 11. when Cruz left her job at the Famous Toastery with a California salad and several containers of fresh fruit.

According to Famous Toastery Chef Ivan Rangel, the salad was prepared for the wife of owner Joseph Kloiber.

Irma Carranza Cruz was arrested after the owner of Famous Toastery of Wrightsville Avenue accused her of stealing a salad. (Port City Daily photo | BENJAMIN SCHACHTMAN)
Irma Carranza Cruz was arrested after the owner of Famous Toastery of Wrightsville Avenue accused her of stealing a salad. (Port City Daily photo/BENJAMIN SCHACHTMAN)

According to Rangel, when the salad went missing, Kloiber pulled up surveillance tape. After identifying Cruz, Rangel said another employee informed management that this was a common occurrence.

“We were told that every Sunday this was happening, she was staying late and taking food,” Rangel said. “At that point, you know, we have a zero-tolerance policy for stealing. I make food for employees all the time – the kitchen feeds our employees if they need something to eat. But stealing, we have rules – it doesn’t matter if you’re Hispanic or white or black, man or woman.”

The day after the incident, Kloiber contacted Wilmington police and asked for Cruz to be arrested. According to the warrant for Cruz’ arrest, Kloiber valued the stolen food at $28.44.

“(T)he kitchen feeds our employees if they need something to eat. But stealing, we have rules – it doesn’t matter if you’re Hispanic or white or black, man or woman.” — Ivan Rangel

According to the Wilmington Police Department, Cruz was arrested at her home on Wednesday, Feb. 14, and charged with felony theft. Police spokeswoman Linda Rawley said the Wilmington Police Department did not contact ICE.

According to records from the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office, Cruz was placed on ICE hold the following afternoon, Feb. 15. Spokesman Jerry Brewery said it was possible that an ICE agent came into contact with Cruz at the detention center.

Rangel said he felt bad about Cruz’s fate, but that the restaurant would have taken similar actions for any employee caught habitually stealing.

“I hate it for her,” Rangel said. “You know, I’m Hispanic too, I get it. We didn’t think it would end up like this. But at the same time we have rules – I’m responsible for food costs, that’s on me. I run this kitchen like it was my own place… so I take it seriously.”

Kloiber said that while calling the police over the incident harsh, it was something he had done before. Kloiber said that Cruz had been a good employee until she stole, but added that he had a zero-tolerance policy for theft for all his employees.

“I feed my employees, I do that every day — but theft, stealing, I take that very seriously, you could be a family friend who got a job here or someone who has worked here,” Kloiber said.

According to Rangel, Cruz submitted what appeared to be proper documentation when she was hired. Famous Toastery does not use the Department of Homeland Security’s E-verify system and, according to Kloiber, he was unaware of her immigration status when he called the police.

 

After ICE made contact with Cruz, she was taken first to Raleigh and then to Atlanta. Several weeks later, on March 8, the felony charges were dropped in New Hanover County District Court. Spokeswoman Samantha Dooies confirmed that Kloiber decided not to press charges.

Kloiber said he wanted to make it clear that he had not contacted ICE and had no intention of having Cruz deported.

“I never wanted it to go to this extent, I would never wish that on her or her family,” Kloiber said. “When I heard what had happened to Irma, I thought ‘this has to be hell for her.’ I called the (New Hanover County) court and asked if there was anything I could do, which is how the charges ended up getting dropped.”

For Cruz, the local charges were no longer her most serious problem. The same day, March 8, Cruz was given a $20,000 bond by Immigration Judge J. Dan Pelletter, which Cruz’s family was unable to pay.

‘It’s just a salad’

Cruz’s family tells a different story about the theft. Her husband – and several other family members – met to discuss Cruz’s situation, but asked not to be identified because they are undocumented. Cruz’s daughter, Milca, was able to speak on the record.

According to the family, Cruz worked an 11-hour shift on Sundays, from 5 a.m. to 4 p.m. At the end of her shift, Cruz saw leftover food in a refrigerator and decided to take it home. According to her husband, Irma Cruz knew about the restaurant’s cameras; she didn’t worry about them because she didn’t think she had done anything wrong. He said his wife thought the salad was unwanted and would be thrown in the garbage on Monday morning; likewise, she thought the fruit would be thrown out if she didn’t take it.

According to the family, an ICE agent was present for Cruz’s arrest — indicating that the agency had been alerted early in the process. The family was immediately concerned, but said when they contacted Wilmington police they were told not to worry.

“They said it was not a problem,” Milca said. “They told us ‘it’s just a salad.’”

Milca said she found out about her mother’s arrest when she got home from school.

“I came home and my dad told me,” Milca said. “It was hard.”

Milca said she’s been able to speak with her mother at least twice. She added some of the family was able to travel to Atlanta to see her for her bond hearing, but that her father was not able to be present for fear of being taken into custody.

What now?

According to the Atlanta Immigration Court’s automated case information hotline, there is currently no hearing date set for Cruz. Her family fears she will spend months in the Irwin County Detention Center before anything happens with her case.

The family has set up a GoFundMe page, but fears they will not be able to raise the $20,000, which is about how much money Cruz’s husband makes in one year.

An ICE agent was present for Cruz’s arrest — indicating that the agency had been alerted early in the process.The family was immediately concerned, but said when they contacted Wilmington police they were told not to worry.

Because the bond is over $10,000, it may also trigger certain automatic stays – sending Cruz’s release on bond through an appeals process.

Cruz’s family has so far been unable to secure legal representation for her deportation hearing. The family fears Cruz will inevitably be deported.

Milca said it was difficult to talk about the issue, but that – until the day her mother as arrested – having one of her parents deported was not something she had ever feared or considered.

“I don’t understand,” Milca said. “Everything fell apart.”


Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at ben@localvoicemedia.com, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001.

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