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Press Release

Immigrant Charged With Defrauding Hopeful Immigrants

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

Catholic Diocese employee accused of embezzling fees for immigration assistance

          GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN — Monica Karina Mazei, aka Karina Puig, was arrested today on an indictment charging her with wire fraud. 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. As alleged by the grand jury in the indictment, on numerous occasions between 2015 and 2019, she collected fees from certain clients and promised to process their petitions. Instead, she allegedly 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.

          The indictment further alleges that Mazei concealed her scheme from the Diocese by not opening files for the clients she was defrauding. In some cases she allegedly 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.

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

          This case is being investigated by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety. If anyone suspects their own or their family member’s application for immigration relief was denied or affected because of Monica Mazei’s alleged actions, they are asked to call the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Tip Line at 1-866-DHS- 2-ICE (1-866-347-2423) and TTY for hearing impaired only at (802) 872-6196. The privacy of crime victims is of the utmost importance. The U.S. Attorney’s Office will do everything in its power to protect the privacy of anyone who responds to this inquiry.

          The charges in an indictment are merely accusations, and a defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in a court of law.


Updated August 29, 2019