Rhode Island Family Charged with Defrauding Immigrants
BOSTON – A Rhode Island woman and her two daughters have been charged with federal wire fraud charges in connection with a scheme to defraud immigrants of hundreds of thousands of dollars over several years.
The indictment, which was unsealed this morning, charges Patria Zuniga, 53, Alba Peña, 24, and Indranis Rocheford, 27, all of Woonsocket, Rhode Island, with eight separate counts of wire fraud. Zuniga was initially charged with one count of wire fraud in May, and has been in custody since May 13, 2015. Peña and Rocheford were arrested at their homes in Rhode Island this morning. They are scheduled to appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge David H. Hennessy today at 2 p.m.
According to court documents, it is alleged that from 2010 through 2012, Zuniga, Peña, and Rocheford targeted immigrant victims with either no lawful status or temporary legal status in the United States. Victims were told that Zuniga worked for immigration authorities and could assist them in obtaining lawful immigration status documents. Zuniga’s services were initially offered to immigrant victims for $8,000 to $14,000; however, after the victims made the payments, Zuniga demanded additional funds, and threatened to have them deported if they refused to pay. Payments were initially made in cash, but later Zuniga, Peña, and Rocheford accepted money via cash deposits made directly into designated bank accounts (including accounts owned by Peña and Rocheford), money orders, and bank and Western Union wire transfers. It is alleged that Zuniga, Peña, and Rocheford received more $800,000 from immigrant victims over the course of the fraud.
“Dreams of a better life and a way out of the shadows make the immigrant community particularly susceptible to abusive immigration services scams like this one,” said U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz. “The defendants are alleged to have illegally enriched themselves by exploiting the vulnerability of immigrants and their families. This indictment should serve as a stern warning to other fraudsters that preying on the most vulnerable among us is illegal and will be prosecuted.”
The charging statutes provide for a maximum sentence of no greater than 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release, a fine of $250,000. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
United States Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz, Michael Shea, Acting Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigation in Boston and Shelly Binkowski, Inspector in Charge of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service made the announcement today. The case is being prosecuted by Jordi de Llano of Ortiz’s Major Crimes Unit.
The details contained in charging documents are allegations. The defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.