Jerome Woman Sentenced To 70 Months For Immigration Fraud Scheme
Defendant ordered to pay over $400,000 in restitution to more than 50 victims
BOISE – Celia Perez, 40, of Jerome, Idaho, was sentenced to 70 months in federal prison for a seven-year immigration services fraud scheme that was executed through the United States mail, U.S. Attorney Wendy J. Olson announced. United States District Court Judge John C. Coughenour from the Western District of Washington also ordered Perez to serve three years of supervised release and to pay $400,000 in restitution to more than fifty victims. Perez pled guilty to the offense on February 12, 2014.
As a part of her 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.
At the sentencing hearing, Judge Coughenour heard testimony from five victims about the financial impact that the defendant's crimes had on them. Several victims described in court how the defendant’s actions caused families to lose tens of thousands of dollars that they paid to Perez for immigration services. Victims explained how their relatives lost opportunities to come to the United States while waiting on the false hope promised by Ms. Perez. One victim told the Court that his wife was stuck in Mexico as a result of the defendant’s inactions, and another victim lamented that he was unable to visit his parents prior to their deaths because the defendant had caused problems with his immigration status.
“Today’s sentence and restitution order send a strong message that those who dream of U.S. citizenship cannot be victimized by others whose only interest is greed and personal benefit,” said Olson. “Celia Perez took advantage of her victims and took their money when she was never in a position to help them realize their dreams. I commend Special Agent Rich Cross, the lawyers from my office who worked on this case and the victims and their advocates who had the courage to come forward to expose Ms. Perez’s criminal conduct.”
“Fraud of this nature is prolific and criminals such as Perez know many immigrants will pay a premium for legal assistance to obtain immigration benefits,” said Brad Bench, special agent in charge of HSI Seattle, who oversees Idaho investigations. “HSI is dedicated to protecting immigrants and the integrity of the legal immigration system. It was only through victims coming forward that we were able to put an end to Perez’s crimes and keep others from being victimized.”
The case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS).