A Missouri woman pleaded guilty today for her role in a scheme to defraud consumers seeking immigration-related services, the Justice Department announced.
Elizabeth Lindsey Meredith, 24, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud, six counts of mail fraud and seven counts of wire fraud in connection with Immigration Forms and Publications (IFP), a Sedalia, Mo., company that sold immigration forms generally available at no charge from the government. According to court documents, IFP sales representatives fraudulently told consumers that the company was affiliated with the government and that fees paid to IFP covered government processing charges. Meredith faces up to 20 years’ in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000.
“Over a year ago, the Department of Justice announced its commitment to combatting immigration services scams, which often prey upon individuals who are in this country legally and trying to abide by the rules,” said Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West. “Today’s guilty pleas represent an important step in our continued fight to protect vulnerable individuals against fraud.”
“Consumers trust that government services are what they claim. We will not tolerate those who exploit that trust,” said Stuart Delery, Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division.
According to court documents, Meredith was a manager of IFP, which operated in 2009 and 2010. In pleading guilty, Meredith admitted that IFP representatives falsely told consumers that the company employed paralegals who would help customers correctly fill out immigration forms, that IFP handled excess call volume for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), that fees paid to IFP included government processing fees, and that forms purchased through IFP would be processed more quickly than if consumers dealt directly with USCIS.
“Law-abiding immigrants sought help to complete government forms, but instead this company cheated hundreds of victims out of more than $400,000 and provided little or no help at all,” said David M. Ketchmark, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri. “This defendant managed the day-to-day operations of the Sedalia office; with her guilty plea today, all of the conspirators now will be held accountable for their fraud and deceit.”
U.S. Magistrate Judge Matt J. Whitworth presided over the change of plea hearing.
Thomas Joseph Strawbridge, 49, and Thomas Barret Laurence, 30, previously pleaded guilty for th eir conduct in the same scheme.
These cases are being prosecuted by Alan Phelps and Adrienne Fowler, Trial Attorneys for the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch, and Tony Gonzalez, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri. The cases were investigated by the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Missouri Secretary of State Corporate Division, the Missouri Secretary of State Securities Division and the Missouri Attorney General’s Office. The Justice Department has also been working with the Federal Trade Commission on immigration services fraud cases and thanks the FTC for its assistance in this matter.
For i nformation regarding immigration forms and information concerning the immigration process, go to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website: www.uscis.gov/avoidscams .