Albanian picked up by ICE in South County; different identity, sex assault charge might have spurred arrest by feds

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GREAT BARRINGTON — Federal immigration agents arrested a man early Tuesday on Main Street, leaving the community beset with questions as to why the immigrant from Albania was taken into custody.

Alexis Gkoles, also known as Aleks Gole, was arrested by agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Gkoles, 36, worked at Patisserie Lenox on Main Street in Great Barrington and lived in a downtown apartment.

The arrest was confirmed by someone who knows Gkoles, but asked to remain unidentified. The same person speculated that what might have triggered Gkoles' immigration arrest was a sexual assault charge in Berkshire Superior Court in November for an alleged assault in 2017. Gkoles had pleaded not guilty to raping a 36-year-old woman in Great Barrington. He was released on his own recognizance and told not to have contact with the woman, according to a court news release.

Details of the arrest were foggy.

On Wednesday, an ICE spokesman's voicemail message said that the agency's public affairs officers, since Dec. 26, are prohibited from working during the government shutdown and are not responding to media requests.

Great Barrington Police Chief William Walsh could not be reached for comment. A department log entry of the incident does not identify Gkoles, but states that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had requested an officer escort to a residence to retrieve medication for someone in custody early Tuesday.

In a 2017 Eagle interview and podcast, Gkoles described having found "peace" in Great Barrington after fleeing Albania amid chaos and violence when the country's communist government began its meltdown.

At 15, he left for Greece, and amid that country's economic crisis, fled to the U.S., landing in Great Barrington to work at the Aegean Breeze restaurant on Stockbridge Road.

Jorgo Cami, the restaurant's chef and owner said he could not comment about Gkoles "at this time." Patisserie Lenox owner Jean-Yves Bougouin also declined to comment.

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Gkoles was learning English at Berkshire Community College's downtown satellite, where he was known to bring pastries to his fellow students.

"I think the most important thing I did in my life was the school," he had told The Eagle. "The same mistakes I did the first time, when I went from Albania to Greece, I am not doing this time."

It appeared Gkoles was planning to stay.

"I'm a person who always goes forward. I'm not looking back. I never forget who I am, and I have my parents in Albania and my siblings in Greece for vacation. But I have no reason to go back to stay."

According to someone who spoke to Gkoles after his arrest, he is being held in Greenfield at the Franklin County House of Correction, which is one of four jails in the state that holds ICE detainees. An officer there, however, could not confirm this after searching the jail's database.

The source said Gkoles has an attorney.

Brooke Mead, the executive director of the Berkshire Immigrant Center, said that, while the arrest likely does not portend the widespread ICE sweeps that were threatened at the beginning of the Donald Trump presidency, it does signify a stepped up level of enforcement.

"My guess is that, whatever is going on with this case, in the past it was unlikely that ICE would have taken the time, at this point, to pick this person up," Mead said, noting that she could not speak specifically about this case.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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