News and Press Releases

VIRGINIA WOMAN SENTENCED TO SIX YEARS FOR
STUDENT VISA SCAM

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 9, 2011

Memphis, Tenn. Mary Ann Smith, 42, was sentenced yesterday to 6 years of incarceration subsequent to her June 2011 guilty plea to two counts of mail and wire fraud arising from a student visa brokerage scam, announced Edward L. Stanton, III, United States Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee.

Smith had been charged with operating a business out of Virginia that purported to be able to assist individuals to obtain student visas for a fee – or, in reality, for an ongoing series of fees. Two of Smith’s thirty-four identified victims are residents of the Memphis area. Smith had contacted the Memphis area victims in February 2009 via email describing a nonexistent student visa program in which the United States government supposedly exchanged students with foreign countries on a one-for-one basis. Smith charged her victims an initial fee of approximately $6,500 per student, and later, after assuring her victims that the visas were being processed, sought fees to cover the students’ airline tickets. Later, yet again, she sought fees from the victims for various types of supposed insurance, including “swine flu insurance.” The scheme involved the use of false documents that appeared to originate from the United States Secretary of State and from United States Citizen and Immigration Services. It also involved the use of a spoofing service that enabled Smith to call her victims and make it appear as if she were
calling from United States Citizen and Immigration Services. Memphis area victims, who sought to sponsor four relatives to obtain student visas, lost over $40,000 to Smith. One of the Memphis area victims told the court that her family members overseas sold their house and their car to make the payments charged by Smith. Total losses suffered by the collective victims exceeded $200,000.

Citing the vulnerability of Smith’s victims, who were generally unsophisticated with respect to United States laws and desperate to help family members get to the United States, the United States District Court varied above the United States Sentencing Guidelines recommended sentence of 41 to 51 months, choosing to sentence Smith to 72 months (6 years). The United States District Court also ordered Smith to make restitution to the victims. As part of Smith’s plea agreement, she agreed to disclose the existence of and forfeit any assets derived from her crime.

“The United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Tennessee will vigorously prosecute those that take advantage of unsuspecting citizens through these types of fraudulent and unlawful schemes,” stated United States Attorney Edward L. Stanton, III. “This scheme not only had a devastating and adverse effect on victims living in the United States, but those living abroad as well. The decision to go above the sentencing guidelines by the United States District Court should send a clear message that these types of crimes, even though they are classified as white collar, can carry severe consequences.”

"Immigration benefit fraud schemes that take advantage of unwitting foreign nationals seeking to lawfully come to the United States erode the integrity of our immigration system," said Raymond R. Parmer, Jr., special agent in charge of ICE HSI in New Orleans. “These schemes are an extremely lucrative form of white-collar crime that is complex and challenging to investigate and prosecute. We are committed to ensuring that our nation's security is not breached in this manner." Parmer oversees a five-state area which includes Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas.

This case was a result of an investigation by Special Agent Donald J. Letterle of United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement-Homeland Security Investigations and Jerry Coleman of the Department of Homeland Security-Office of the Inspector General. Assistant United States Attorney John Fabian is handling the case for the government.

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