Jury Convicts North Suburban Lawyer of Immigration Fraud for Falsifying Clients’ Applications for U.S. Asylum
CHICAGO — A federal jury today convicted a north suburban attorney of submitting false information to immigration authorities to help his clients seek asylum in the United States.
ROBERT DEKELAITA accepted fees from foreign nationals in exchange for submitting the false documents to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Citizenship and Immigration Services. DeKelaita’s fraudulent statements often falsely portrayed his clients as victims of persecution by religious extremists in the Middle East.
DeKelaita, 53, of Glenview, was convicted on one count of conspiracy to commit asylum fraud, two counts of knowingly offering false statements in an asylum application, and one count of procuring perjury during asylum interviews. The conviction is punishable by a maximum sentence of 35 years in prison.
U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly scheduled a sentencing hearing for Aug. 3, 2016, at 1:30 p.m.
Asylum is a benefit the U.S. government extends to immigrants who have suffered persecution in their native country or who fear future persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. To apply for asylum, the immigrant must submit an application detailing his or her personal history and provide a specific account of the alleged persecution. The application is signed by the immigrant, the immigrant’s attorney, and, if translation services were provided, the interpreter. An interview is then held before immigration authorities, with all of the signors present. A grant of asylum confers numerous benefits upon the immigrant, including eligibility to apply for permanent residency status.
DeKelaita is a licensed attorney whose Morton Grove firm, R.W. DeKelaita & Associates LLC, specializes in immigration law. Evidence at trial revealed that from approximately 2000 to 2011, DeKelaita prepared and submitted asylum applications that contained material lies, including tales of rape, murder, torture, kidnappings, bombings and other forms of religious oppression in the Middle East. As a result, several of DeKelaita’s clients were granted asylum and eventually permanent residency and citizenship status.
Two interpreters who provided Arabic and Assyrian translations for DeKelaita’s clients were also charged in the scheme. ADAM BENJAMIN, of Skokie, pleaded guilty last year to one count of conspiracy to commit asylum fraud. Benjamin admitted in a plea agreement that he instructed DeKelaita’s clients to present false stories of persecution in order to secure asylum. Benjamin was sentenced in July 2015 to six months in prison. YOUSIF YOUSIF, of Skokie, has pleaded not guilty to immigration fraud charges and is scheduled for trial on Aug. 29, 2016, before Judge Kennelly.
DeKelaita’s conviction was announced by Zachary T. Fardon, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; Armando Lopez, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Homeland Security Office of Inspector General in Chicago; and Michael J. Anderson, Special Agent in Charge of the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assisting in the investigation were Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; Homeland Security’s U.S. Customs and Border Protection; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations; and the Farmington Hills, Mich., Police Department.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Lindsay Jenkins and Andrianna Kastanek.