Jerome Woman Admits Using U.S. Mail In Immigration Fraud Scheme
Defendant Falsely Represented Herself as Immigration Attorney to Collect “Fines and Fees” from Victims
BOISE – Celia Perez, 40, of Jerome, Idaho, pleaded guilty today in United States District Court to two counts of using the mail to execute an immigration services fraud scheme, U.S. Attorney Wendy J. Olson announced.
According to the plea agreement, Perez admitted that she falsely represented herself as an immigration attorney and solicited fees from clients for immigration services that she never provided. The scheme ran from 2006 through 2013. As part of the scheme to defraud, Perez sent her clients invoices requesting money for “fines and fees,” that she claimed were due and owing to various U.S. Government agencies for immigration benefits applications. The clients then sent money, by certified checks and money orders, to Perez at her U.S. Post Office Box in Wendell, Idaho, through the use of the U.S. Mail. Perez never filed any applications for immigration benefits with any U.S. Government agencies, nor were any fines or fees ever owed by the clients for immigration benefits applications. Rather, Perez used the money paid by the clients for her own purposes.
According to the plea agreement, during the investigation, Perez voluntarily met with agents of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations and admitted that she had engaged in the fraud scheme for several years. Perez further admitted that she obtained money from victims identified in the plea agreement, but did not pay any fines or fees to U.S. Government agencies as she had represented. Instead she used the money for her own purposes. Perez admitted that the amount of loss resulting from her fraud scheme is greater than $300,000, but less than $400,000. Perez also admitted that she opened approximately 12 credit card accounts, and obtained a student loan in the name of a relative. The government is seeking forfeiture of assets and restitution for victims of the fraud.
“Ms. Perez took advantage of those who dreamed of U.S. citizenship,” said Olson. “She took their money but was never in a position to assist them in obtaining immigration benefits. The U.S. Attorney’s Office and its law enforcement partners are committed to vigorously pursuing this kind of fraud. We are committed to protecting the integrity of the United States immigration system and those who lawfully seek benefits through that system.”
Anyone who wants to notify the government that he or she was a victim of Celia Perez’s fraud scheme should send a written statement, with details and supporting documents, to Special Agent Richard Cross, Homeland Security Investigations, at 1185 S. Vinnell Way, Boise, Idaho 83709-1656.
Each count of mail fraud is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, a maximum fine of $250,000, and up to three years of supervised release.
Sentencing is set for April 29, 2014, before Chief U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill, at the federal courthouse in Boise.
The case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS).