Little Rock Woman Sentenced To Eight Years In Prison In Scheme To Defraud Undocumented Workers
Fayetteville, Arkansas - Conner Eldridge, United States Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas, announced that Wendy Espinoza, a 32 year old foreign national from Honduras who was living in Little Rock, was sentenced to 96 months in prison and three years of supervised release on each count of Wire Fraud and Mail Fraud. The sentences are to run concurrent with each other. Espinoza was also ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $541,520.00. The Honorable Timothy L. Brooks presided over the sentencing hearing in the United States District Court in Fayetteville.
U.S. Attorney Eldridge stated, “With today’s sentence, justice has now been served on behalf of the vulnerable and unsuspecting victims drawn into the devious trap set by Ms. Espinoza. The means in which she represented herself to them and the methods of intimidation that she used in order to enrich herself is nothing short of heartless. She threatened these victims with things she knew would most deeply affect them; arrest, deportation, and the loss of their children. Our office remains dedicated to pursuing fraud cases in the Western District of Arkansas and holding accountable those who swindle and take advantage of others.”
“Criminals routinely make false promises and seek to exploit individuals hoping to gain legal status in the United States,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge of HSI New Orleans Cindy M. Johnson. “This case illustrates the importance of being cautious when dealing with service providers, and also shows that Homeland Security Investigations will investigate and seek prosecution of those who prey on individuals to commit fraud.”
Beginning in 2007 and continuing through July, 2014, Espinoza devised a scheme to defraud illegal immigrants and to take their money by falsely representing that she could provide legal advice and services for them to obtain legal resident status in the United States. Specifically, Espinoza misrepresented that she worked with or for an immigration attorney and that she and or the attorney would prepare legitimate immigration documents for a fee. Espinoza in fact has no legal training and has never been associated with an immigration attorney. She would then state that she needed the individuals to pay various illegitimate “fees” and “fines” to continue the immigration process, such as a $10,000.00 “state pardon fee” and a $10,000.00 IRS fine. If those payments were not forthcoming, Espinoza threatened arrest, deportation, and, in one case, losing custody of their children. In order to comply with Espinoza’s demands, the defrauded individuals arranged for payment from family members to accounts designated by Espinoza. During a search of Espinoza’s residence in Little Rock, federal investigators found counterfeit documents that resembled the bogus Social Security Administration and immigration documents Espinoza had provided to some of the victims. Espinoza pleaded guilty to the charges in September, 2014.
This case was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations and the Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyra Jenner prosecuted the case for the United States.
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Related court documents may be found on the Public Access to Electronic Records Website at www.Pacer.gov