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Press Release

Immigrant Sentenced For Defrauding Hopeful Immigrants

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Michigan

Catholic Diocese employee embezzled fees for immigration assistance

          GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN — Monica Karina Mazei, aka Karina Puig, was sentenced today to 33 months’ imprisonment by Chief U.S. District Judge Robert J. Jonker. Mazei had been employed by the Catholic Diocese of Kalamazoo’s Immigration Assistance Program, where she helped clients and their relatives apply for visas, work permits, permanent resident status, citizenship, and other relief. In October 2019, Mazei pled guilty to an indictment charging her with wire fraud. She admitted that on numerous occasions between 2015 and 2019, she collected fees from certain clients and promised to process their petitions. Instead, she embezzled their money, and did not send in their paperwork. Mazei immigrated to the United States from Ecuador herself, and became a naturalized citizen in 1999.

          Mazei concealed her scheme from the Diocese by not opening files for the clients she was defrauding. In some cases she deceived clients by requesting blank checks or money orders. She wrote “U.S. Department of Homeland Security” in the payee line of the copies she provided them as proof of payment. She then wrote her own name as payee on the actual instruments, and deposited them in her personal accounts. In other cases she took cash, which she simply kept for herself. In addition to the sentence of imprisonment, Chief Judge Jonker ordered Mazei to pay $58,998 in restitution to her identifiable victims.

          “Mazei was given an opportunity to live the American dream,” said U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge, “but she cashed in on the dreams of others to line her own pockets.”

          This case was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety.


Updated February 3, 2020