U.S. federal officials have arrested a Nazi guard who escaped deportation 16 years ago and was found hiding out in a secret compartment underneath the stairs of his former Michigan home.
Johann Leprich, 77, was stripped of his citizenship in 1987 after a federal court judge found that he served as an armed SS Death’s Head guard at the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria in 1943 and 1944.
But Leprich’s attorney said he had fled the United States for Canada before he could be officially deported.
After an exhaustive search, agents from the Department of Homeland Security’s Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement found Leprich on July 1.
“We caught him on a visit,” said Eli Rosenbaum, director of the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations.
Rosenbaum said federal officials had received numerous reports of Leprich’s visits to the United States over the years, including one trip to Michigan to renew his driver’s license.
Investigators believe that Leprich spent most of the time after his citizenship was revoked in Canada, and it was easy for him to cross the border back into the United States, even without a passport.
Neighbors described Leprich, who apparently spent considerable time in the United States, as a “good man,” who gave tomatoes from his garden to people, according to the Associated Press.
Rosenbaum said he hopes Leprich will receive an abbreviated deportation trial because of his previous conviction, and that Canada will refuse him entry.
Investigators were aided by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Rosenbaum said.
“This arrest makes clear that those who participated in the atrocities of the Holocaust will not escape the determined reach of U.S. law enforcement, regardless of how much time has passed,” Attorney General John Ashcroft said in a news release.
“Nazi collaborators will not find safe haven in the United States.”
Leprich, who was featured on television’s “America’s Most Wanted” in 1997, immigrated to the United States in 1952, and became a naturalized citizen six years later. During his time at Mauthausen, inmates were used as slave laborers in a quarry located at the camp, and inmates were starved, beaten, tortured and killed by numerous methods, the court that prosecuted him said.
The Office of Special Investigations and Department of Homeland Security claimed in court papers filed last week that Leprich should be deported because of his service at Mauthausen and because he failed to comply with a statute requiring aliens residing in the United States to report their address to federal authorities.
Since 1979, 71 Nazi persecutors have lost their U.S. citizenship and 57 have been removed from the country.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.