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Press Release

Two Plead Guilty to Selling Membership in Fake Indian Tribe

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Texas

BROWNSVILLE, Texas – A Brownsville man and woman have entered guilty pleas to selling membership in a non-recognized Indian tribe, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson.

Humberto Reveles, 60, and Maria Isabel Lerma, 32, have admitted to selling membership in the Yamassee tribe as part of a scheme to defraud. Reveles was the chief, and later grand chief, of the tribe. He claimed the tribal identification documents that came with membership would allow tribe members to remain in the United States, prevent them from being deported, allow them to travel within and work in the country, despite not having immigration status. Lerma was initially hired as a secretary and assisted Reveles in carrying on the scheme.

Lerma pleaded guilty today before U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen, while Reveles entered his plea before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald G. Morgan on March 17, 2015.

Reveles opened an office where he would meet with prospective tribe members, in addition to holding informational meetings. Prospective tribe members would pay Reveles or his employees and were to receive tribal naturalization certificates, tribal identification cards and tribal drivers’ licenses. The documents were to be presented in support of the false immigration claims underlying the scheme.  The certificates and cards displayed the words “U.S. Department of State authentication #04010010-1,” even though that number referred to a state of Georgia document and did not refer to the Yamassee tribe.

The Yamassee tribe not a federally-recognized Indian tribe nor recognized by the U.S. Department of State.

Reveles is set for sentencing June 22, 2015, before U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen, while Lerma is set for Sept. 8, 2015. At that time, they face up to 20 years in federal prison and a possible $250,000 fine. They were permitted to remain on bond pending their respective sentencing hearings.

The case was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations and U.S Department of State - Diplomatic Security Service with assistance from Border Patrol, FBI and the Brownsville Police Department.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Leonard is prosecuting the case.

Updated July 7, 2015