News and Press Releases

Posed as Federal Agent to Defraud Immigrants Seeking Help with Citizenship

December 7, 2007

TOMA LELEA, 40, of Seattle, Washington, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to 41 months in prison, three years of supervised release and $102,448 in restitution for Wire Fraud, Mail Fraud, Social Security Fraud and Felony Theft of Public Money. LELEA was indicted in the District of Hawaii in connection with a scheme to obtain money from illegal immigrants by claiming he worked for or had special sway with the U.S. government and could assist them with their immigration status. Here in the Western District of Washington, LELEA claimed Social Security Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits and Section 8 Housing assistance to which he was not entitled. As he imposed sentence, U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour said, “I see no reason to depart from the guidelines range.” LELEA’s attorney had asked for a 12 month sentence in part because of LELEA’s various health conditions.

According to documents filed in the case, LELEA was indicted in December 2006, in the District of Hawaii. According to the indictment, LELEA would hold himself out to foreign nationals as a government employee with special influence over the U.S. immigration process. At various times LELEA displayed badges or clothing that indicated he worked for the FBI or U.S. Marshal’s Service. LELEA even displayed a 9 mm Glock when holding himself out as a member of federal law enforcement. LELEA was never employed by the government in any capacity. LELEA accepted more than $19,000 in fees from some 20 victims who thought they were getting help. Instead as one victim noted, the “help” meant he missed important deadlines in his efforts to gain legal status.

In the Western District of Washington, LELEA pleaded guilty in connection to his efforts to defraud government agencies. LELEA claimed he was poor and disabled, while owning property in Western Samoa and having significant bank accounts. On August 6, 2007, LELEA pleaded guilty to nineteen counts in the Hawaii indictment and to two charges filed by information in the Western District of Washington. The sentence imposed today resolves the cases in both districts.

Prosecutors argued for a significant sentence for LELEA noting that he preyed on vulnerable people, acted as if he had government authority and used a weapon as part of his ruse. “Most troubling perhaps is Mr. Lelea’s efforts to prey on those who are least likely to seek the assistance of law enforcement. As illegal aliens, the victims of Mr. Lelea’s scheme were understandably concerned about any contact with Federal law enforcement. Mr. Lelea knows this and used this fact to further his scheme,” Assistant United States Attorney Norman Barbosa wrote in his sentencing memo.

The case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General (SSA-OIG) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Inspector General (HUD-OIG). The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Norman Barbosa for the Western District of Washington and Assistant United States Attorney Loretta Sheehan for the District of Hawaii.

For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, Western District of Washington, at (206) 553-4110.

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