A Forest Lake man pleaded guilty Thursday to illegally immigrating to the United States as a refugee while hiding alleged murders and other war crimes he committed during the Bosnian conflict in the 1990s.
Zdenko "Zeke" Jakisa, 47, entered his plea in federal court in St. Paul to a charge of immigration fraud. Jakisa's trial had been scheduled to begin Aug. 3. Federal sentencing guidelines call for Jakisa to receive a prison term of nine to 15 months. Still uncertain is whether he remains subject to deportation at some point.
Federal prosecutors have alleged that Jakisa served between 1991 and 1995 with the notorious Hrvatsko Vijece Odbrane (HVO), made up of shock troops under the command of the Croatian Defense Council, which has been linked to wartime atrocities.
Bosnian court records indicate Jakisa was either arrested or charged with an array of violent crimes. He also is suspected of war crimes against civilians.
Among the many allegations is that he murdered Nevenka Elezovic, a 62-year-old Serbian, in 1993 in the Bosnian city of Capljina. But Jakisa's U.S. attorney said another man with Jakisa when Elezovic was killed implicated himself in her death. That man has since died, and the alleged murder weapon has been lost.
While that murder case was pending, Jakisa left Bosnia for Croatia in January 1998, successfully applying for refugee status to immigrate to the United States and arriving in Forest Lake a few months later with the aid of a local church. He was convicted in absentia for Elezovic's death in December 1998. Since arriving in the U.S., Jakisa has been running a modest taxi business with his wife, Anna.
Recent documents related to the case show that two brothers in Capljina also accused Jakisa of murdering their parents, Ahmet and Emina Basic. Jakisa has not been charged in their deaths, but the investigation into the case is apparently still open, documents show.
An imposing, burly man with unruly blond hair who stands 6 feet, 5 inches tall, Jakisa has been convicted of numerous misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors in Minnesota since 2001, including drunken driving, disorderly conduct and fifth-degree assault. He and his wife have also been named in several lawsuits, and the couple filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2009.
Sentencing for Jakisa has yet to be scheduled. He remains free on $25,000 bond. Messages were left Thursday with Jakisa and his attorneys seeking comment on his guilty plea.
Star Tribune staff writer Jim Anderson contributed to this report. Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482