Since arriving in the United States from the brutality of war-torn Croatia in 1998, there has scarcely been a year when Zdenko Jakiša wasn’t in trouble with the law, clashing with neighbors or barely staying a step ahead of creditors.
But his arrest and indictment in federal court for failing to disclose alleged involvement in war crimes ranging from murder to kidnapping and assault in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the 1990s could potentially lead to his deportation.
Jakiša, known as “Zeke,” who runs a modest taxicab business with his wife, Anna, was arrested Wednesday on immigration fraud charges. The charges allege he entered the United States without disclosing that he had been indicted and imprisoned in Bosnia, and had committed crimes of “moral turpitude.”
Jakiša, 45, remains in custody of the U.S. Marshals Service before a detention hearing on Monday.
Anna Jakiša said she doesn’t know where her husband is, and added that federal authorities “didn’t tell me a lot of things.”
She declined to say much else about the allegations, except that “I have the best husband in the world. He is innocent, and he will win this case.”
An imposing, burly man with unruly blonde hair who stands 6 feet, 5 inches tall, Jakiša has a long string of misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor convictions dating from 1999, 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.
But that pales in comparison with what he is accused of doing as a member of the Croatian Defense Council (known as the HVO) — membership he is also accused of failing to disclose when seeking permanent residence in the United States — during the Bosnian Conflict.
Specifically, according to witnesses in Bosnia, Jakiša murdered an elderly Bosnian Serb woman and kidnapped, robbed and assaulted a Bosnian Muslim man in 1993.
The Bosnian conflict is considered to be the site of the worst genocide in Europe since World War II. Tens of thousands of people were killed and more than 2 million people were displaced after the breakup of Yugoslavia.
Neighbors living near the Jakišas’ ranch-style house in a quiet middle-class neighborhood on 8th Avenue SE., not far from the western shore of Forest Lake, said he never threatened them, but they kept a polite distance.
The home could be noisy at times, the neighbors added, because the couple ran the taxi business out of their home and they had occasional raucous bonfires.
Jeff Solomon, who had lived near the Jakišas in a Forest Lake mobile home park, sued the couple for harassment after a series of incidents that grew increasingly disturbing, such as throwing dead fish on his roof.
“He was getting more delusional and more delusional and … odd to the point where I had to bring him to court,” Solomon said. He lost the case but in retrospect, he said, he might have been fortunate. The Jakišas moved soon afterward.
Sahin Muminovic, a fellow Croatian who sued Jakiša in a dispute over a car sale, said he wasn’t surprised at Jakiša’s arrest. He claims Jakiša stole the car, and still owes him $5,000.