April 30, 2010
IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY PLEADS GUILTY TO MAKING FALSE STATEMENT IN ASYLUM APPICATION
(HOUSTON) – Shelly Winn, an immigration attorney who formerly operated the Law Office of Shelly Winn in Houston, pleaded guilty today to making a false statement in an asylum application for a Chinese nationals who falsely claimed he was being persecuted in China for practicing Christianity, United States Attorney José Angel Moreno announced today.
In a hearing before United States District Judge Melinda Harmon this morning, Winn, 43, pleaded guilty to the felony charge of making a false statement in an asylum application filed with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Winn, who is scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 13, 2010, remains on bond.
According to the factual basis in Winn’s plea agreement, from 1999 through 2003, the Law Office of Shelly Winn filed approximately 70 asylum applications on behalf of Chinese nationals which listed persecution based on practicing Christianity as the grounds for asylum. Given the unusually high number of applications from one firm claiming the same type of persecution and similar accounts concerning the details of the claimed torture in a number of the statements of persecution included in the applications an investigation was initiated.
One of the applicants during this period was a Chinese national residing in Houston. The individual visited the law office and met with employee Elizabeth Jones, who has also pleaded guilty after being extradited from Hong Kong and is awaiting sentencing on May 14, 2010. The applicant stated that Jones recommended that he should file an application for asylum claiming he was persecuted in China for Christianity even though he was not a Christian. Jones provided the applicant with a statement of persecution, which falsely stated the applicant was tortured for practicing Christianity in China.
In May 15, 2003, attorney Shelly Winn signed the application, below a declaration stating that “I have prepared this application at the request of the person named in Part D, that the responses provided are based on all information of which I have knowledge, or which was provided to me by the applicant and that the completed application was read to the applicant in his or her native language or a language he or she understands for verification before he or she signed the application in my presence.” In fact, Winn had never met the applications at this time and thus the application was not read to the applicant in Winn’s presence for verification prior to submission. This declaration of preparer verification that Winn falsely signed is unique to asylum applications given the higher incidence of fraud in asylum applications as compared to other immigration filings.
Per the terms of her plea agreement, if accepted by the court, Winn will serve a one-year term of probation.
The case was investigated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the United States Postal Inspection Service and the Department of Labor - Office of Inspector General and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Gregg Costa and Doug Davis.
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