CHARLOTTE, NC (Michael Gordon/The Charlotte Observer) - Milan Trisic came to Charlotte, claiming to be a refugee from the murderous Balkan civil wars. On Monday in federal court in Charlotte, the truth finally came out.
The 54-year-old Trisic, a Bosnian Serb, acknowledged that he had lied to get into the country – hiding military service that placed him in the middle one of the era's most notorious war crimes: the July 1995 slaughter of up to 8,000 ethnic Muslims – most of them men and boys – in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica.
A decade later, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan described the killings as the worst war atrocity on European soil since World War II. Late last month, a U.N. tribunal found former Serbian general Ratko Miladic guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity for commanding the slaughter at Srebrenica and the siege of Sarajevo. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Over the past two decades, Trisic did what he could to hide his past. Two years ago, when his name popped up among 300 Bosnians living in the States that the government was investigating for possible deportation, Trisic told the New York Times that during the war years that tore apart the former Yugoslavia he had only driven a truck, and was never a soldier.
At the time, investigators believed up to half of the targeted Bosnian immigrants had taken part in the massacre at Srebrenica.
"It's just talk," Trisic's son, Sladjan, told The Times. "There's no proof. They're trying to blame him for something in the war. He wasn't involved in any of that."
Standing before U.S. Magistrate Judge David Cayer, the family history changed. Under a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, Trisic admitted that between 1992 and 1996, he had been a member of the Serbian Army's "Bratunac Brigade," part of a military strike force that unleashed a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Muslim residents of the former Yugoslavia.
Trisic also acknowledged that his brigade had taken part in the killings at Srebrenica, prosecutors say.
He pleaded guilty to a single count of obtaining a Permanent Residency Card by making materially false claims and statements and will be sentenced at a later date. Under the terms of his plea agreement, Trisic will be deported once he is freed. It's unclear what international charges, if any, he might face.
"Those who seek to come to this country must respect our laws," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a prepared statement about the case. "Entering this country on the basis of fraud is unacceptable."
Trisic reportedly drove a truck while in in Charlotte. Public records show that he and his family live in the Coulwood neighborhood north of the airport.
A woman who identified herself as Trisic's wife, Lala Trisic, said during a phone interview Monday that the family was referring all questions to Charlotte attorney Rob Heroy.
Heroy told the Observer that since the case is ongoing, he could not comment.