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Press Release

Former Immigration Officer Who Took Bribes From Immigrants Sentenced To 51 Months In Federal Prison

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Central District of California

Ex-Federal Employee and His Wife Were Also Found Guilty of Witness Tampering

SANTA ANA, California – A former immigration officer who was found guilty of taking bribes from Cambodian immigrants in exchange for immigration benefits, including granting the immigrants temporary legal status, has been sentenced to more than four years in federal prison.

Billy Louis Nelms Sr., 54, of Los Angeles, was sentenced to 51 months in prison late Monday afternoon by United States District Judge Andrew J. Guildford.

During the federal court proceeding Monday, Judge Guilford called the corruption offenses a “disappointment,” noting that “we live in a cynical time where people are not believing in their government.” Judge Guilford also stated that Nelms’ corrupt actions sent a poor message to immigrants, essentially telling them: “Pay the man, get the result.”

Following a seven-day trial, a federal jury on August 1 found Nelms guilty of conspiracy to commit bribery and defraud the United States, bribery, conspiracy to witness tamper and witness tampering.

“These corrupt actions challenged the integrity of an immigration system Mr. Nelms had sworn to uphold,” said Acting United States Attorney Stephanie Yonekura. “Mr. Nelms may have believed that he was above the law, but the prison sentence imposed today shows that everyone will be held accountable for their illegal actions.”

Nelms’ wife, Sokhon Nelms, 60, also of Los Angeles, also was found guilty of conspiracy to witness tamper and witness tampering for threatening two witnesses at the behest of her husband. Sokhon Nelms is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Guilford on November 6.

“Maintaining the integrity of our nation’s immigration system remains one of the top priorities for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Office of Inspector

General (OIG),” said Roger T. Merchant, Special Agent in Charge of DHS OIG, Los Angeles Field Office. “There is no place within the Department for those who knowingly commit corrupt acts for their own personal gain. The DHS OIG will continue to aggressively pursue, investigate and prosecute those who break the law and violate the public trust.”

The evidence at the couple’s trial showed that, between 2005 and August 2008, Billy Nelms worked in the Santa Ana federal building as an immigration officer in the Fraud Detection and National Security unit, which is part of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). As part of his job, Nelms was involved in, among other things, investigating marriage fraud on applications for an immigration benefit.

The bribery scheme involved Cambodian immigrants who were present in the United States without legal status and promised permanent legal status by Nelms. The immigrants paid as much as $5,000 in cash, and, in exchange for this, Nelms stamped immigration documents that gave the immigrants temporary legal status in the United States – but not the permanent status they sought.

After Nelms was indicted on bribery charges in June 2013, Mr. and Mrs. Nelms tampered with two of the witnesses in the bribery case.

This case is the product of an investigation by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General (DHS-OIG).

USCIS’s Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate and Immigration Services and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security

Release No. 14-137

Updated June 22, 2015