San Diego Man Sentenced for $2.5 Million Financial Scam That Targeted Immigrants

Inside Subprime: October 28, 2019

By Lindsay Frankel

A San Diego man was sentenced this month to seven years in prison for impersonating federal government workers, including those from the Department of Homeland Security, in order to defraud immigrants of money.

The man was charged with impersonating a federal officer, evading financial reporting requirements, wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, struck a plea deal with prosecutors earlier in the year.

The defendant allegedly worked with co-conspirators to scam immigrants at their most vulnerable, such as those dealing with deportation hearings. The Justice Department reported that losses totaled more than $2.5 million. The scam caused more than financial damage. In one instance, the defendant promised a family permanent residency in exchange for $250,000. One family member committed suicide after the loss.

During sentencing, Gonzalo Curiel, the San Diego judge, said this case was “one of the more serious cases this Court has handled” in recent years.

The scam started around 2014. The defendant and his co-conspirators posed as government workers working in immigrant affairs to convince immigrants seeking lawful status that they could help them gain legal immigration status, process applications, and delay deportation hearings. The scammers wore DHS jackets and showed victims false credentials.

The indictment indicated that the fraudsters also threatened victims in order to keep them from reporting the fraud. In one case, a co-conspirator promised an immigrant a green card in exchange for $45,000. He then told the immigrants wife it would be another $10,000 to complete the application. Court documents allege that the frauders then threatened the couple, after which the wife sent $6,500.

“[The defendant’s] fraud scheme was particularly egregious as he attempted to use the veil of a U.S. government official to obtain millions of dollars from those trying to obtain legal status in the United States,” FBI agent Scott Brunner said in a press release, “Falsely claiming to be a federal official degrades the integrity of the system and therefore has serious consequences. Today, [the defendant’s] destructive scheme has been shut down, he has a federal conviction, and must serve a prison sentence as a result of his actions.”

He “preyed on the most vulnerable . . . these are people who wanted to live and experience the American dream,” said Curiel. “[The defendant] pretended he could be the one who provided the American dream. This offense is serious because of the heartlessness and callousness required to perpetuate this fraud on so many for so long.”

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