LOS ANGELES (CNS) – A woman was sentenced Monday, Jan. 5, to a year in federal prison for participating in a scheme to file fraudulent “green card” applications on behalf of immigrants who were married to United States citizens, some of whom paid more than $20,000 for the service.
Claudia Arreola, 36, was also ordered by U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson to complete three years of supervised release following her prison term.
Arreola and co-defendant Leticia Gutierrez, 35, of Pico Rivera admitted submitting paperwork to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on behalf of foreign nationals who were seeking to obtain permanent resident status based on legitimate marriages to U.S. citizens.
Arreola employed Gutierrez at California Immigration Services, a Los Angeles-area immigration consulting firm. The applications filed by the women included fraudulent I-94 cards indicating that the immigrants, who originally came to the U.S. illegally, entered lawfully on visitors’ visas, according to court papers.
The victims were originally quoted fees of about $7,000, but the defendants ultimately charged them as much as $24,000, prosecutors said.
To pay the debt, some of the couples borrowed against their credit cards or obtained loans from family and friends. Subsequently, when several of the foreign nationals sought refunds after they failed to receive “green cards,” the defendants threatened to contact authorities and have the immigrants deported, according to federal prosecutors.
Both women pleaded guilty to federal counts of presentation of a false immigration document and causing an act to be done.
Gutierrez was sentenced in October to a year in home detention.
“Tragically, as is often true in such scams, at least some of the victims in this case could have obtained green cards legally,” Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Claude Arnold said previously.
“Instead, they placed their trust and, in many cases, their life savings in the hands of individuals who were focused on enriching themselves, rather than on helping hopeful immigrants realize the American dream.”
The probe targeting Arreola’s company began in 2011, after HSI received leads from USCIS’ Fraud Detection and National Security directorate involving several suspicious benefit applications.
A half-dozen instances of fraud were charged in the case indictment, but federal authorities believe the scheme involved dozens of bogus benefit applications dating back to 2006.
In 2003, the state Attorney General sued Arreola and Gutierrez, alleging that the women had engaged in an illegal scheme to provide immigration services in violation of California law.
Both Arreola and Gutierrez entered into settlement agreements in which they promised not to engage in illegal immigration consulting services in violation of California law, specifically agreeing not to promise certain benefits or results in immigration cases.
The defendants began operating California Immigration Services in 2006 and engaging in the conduct that resulted in their recent convictions.