Former Atlantic County, N.J., Paralegal Charged With Mail Fraud Conspiracy
Allegedly Urged Clients to Feign Spousal Abuse to Stay in United States
CAMDEN, N.J. – A woman who allegedly filed false and fraudulent immigration petitions for clients while working as a paralegal in Atlantic County, N.J., made her initial court appearance today on conspiracy charges, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
Maria James, 68, of Willingboro, Burlington County, N.J., was charged by complaint Feb. 19, 2014, with one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. She appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ann Marie Donio in Camden federal court this morning and was released on a $50,000 bond.
According to documents filed in this case:
From 2002 through June 2011, James worked from an office in Brigantine, Atlantic County, as a paralegal on immigration issues, working for three different lawyers. She solicited and recruited as clients for the lawyers’ immigration practices various individuals who were illegally in the United States. James arranged for two marriages and also filed numerous fraudulent immigration petitions seeking to allow her clients to obtain legal permanent resident status.
At least 22 of James’ former clients have admitted that the immigration petitions submitted by James and the attorneys for whom James worked contained false and fraudulent information. Many of the petitions were based upon false claims of physical abuse by spouses against the illegal alien clients, and contained fraudulent supporting documentation, including photographs taken by or at the direction of James. She allegedly used makeup or ketchup to fake the injuries. James then filed or directed the filing of petitions with U.S. Customs and Immigration Services by U.S. Mail or Federal Express.
The charge of conspiracy to commit mail fraud carries a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Andrew McLees in Newark; and IRS – Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Shantelle P. Kitchen; with the investigation leading to today’s charge.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Diana Carrig of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Camden.
The charge and allegations contained in the complaint are merely accusations and the defendant is considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.
Defense counsel: Edward Crisonino Esq., Westmont, N.J.