Rhode Island Woman Charged with Defrauding Worcester-Area Immigrants
BOSTON – A Rhode Island woman was arrested this morning and charged in U.S. District Court in Worcester with federal wire fraud in connection with a scheme to defraud undocumented immigrants that netted over $600,000.
Patria Zuniga, 52, of Woonsocket, RI, was charged with one count of wire fraud. She was arrested at her home this morning and appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge David H. Hennessy this afternoon.
According to the complaint, from 2010 through 2012, Zuniga posed as an immigration official and specifically targeted undocumented immigrants who sought to normalize their immigration status. As part of her scheme, Zuniga told her victims that she could assist them in obtaining lawful permanent residence in the U.S. in exchange for payments of $9,000 to $10,000 per person. After receiving the initial payments, Zuniga demanded additional funds from immigrants and their families, and threatened to have them deported if they refused to pay.
Over the course of the scheme, it is alleged that Zuniga collected over $600,000 from immigrants via cash, money orders, and bank and Western Union wire transfers. Zuniga also allegedly attempted to distance herself from the fraud scheme and avoid detection by having third-parties (including family members) receive the payments on her behalf.
The charging statute provides for a 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, Bruce M. Foucart, 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 was investigated by HSI’s Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force, and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jordi de Llano of Ortiz’s Major Crimes Unit.
The details contained in the complaint are allegations. The defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.