WASHINGTON - Three Columbian nationals each were sentenced yesterday to 23 months in federal prison for their roles in a conspiracy to smuggle aliens for profit and conspiracy to commit visa fraud in an extensive and sophisticated visa fraud scheme through which they fraudulently procured visas from the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá, Colombia. This investigation was led by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Heliber Toro Mejia, 52; Humberto Toro Mejia, 60; and Luz Elena Acuna Rios, 53; all of Bogotá, was sentenced to serve three years of supervised release following their sentence. In addition, removal orders were issued for all the defendants.
The defendants pleaded guilty on Sept. 29, 2010, to one count of conspiracy to commit alien smuggling for profit and one count of conspiracy to commit visa fraud. They were charged in a three-count indictment in the District of Columbia on Feb. 4, 2009. The defendants were arrested on June 2, 2009, by Colombian authorities in Bogotá on provisional arrest warrants in response to a U.S. government request for their arrest and were subsequently extradited to the United States for prosecution.
According to court documents, Heliber Toro Mejia, Humberto Toro Mejia and Luz Elena Acuna Rios admitted that they operated an extensive and sophisticated visa fraud ring that profited by assisting otherwise inadmissible Colombian nationals in fraudulently procuring visas from the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá. Plea documents reveals to support the visa applications of alien applicants, the defendants and other conspirators created fictitious backgrounds for the aliens and fraudulent supporting documentation, including paperwork that appeared to be official Colombian government-issued documents such as tax filings and birth and marriage certificates, property ownership records, and corporation documents. The conspirators coached the aliens on how to pass the visa interview at the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá by answering questions untruthfully as well as how to lie to U.S. immigration authorities about their backgrounds when entering the United States. The defendants admitted to assisting more than 100 aliens in fraudulently obtaining or attempting to fraudulently obtain a U.S. visa during the course of the conspiracy. Many of those aliens who did obtain a fraudulently-procured visa used that visa to enter the United States.
As part of their sentences, the defendants were ordered to forfeit assets related to the alien smuggling and visa fraud scheme, including an office in Bogotá and $234,533 in proceeds. The defendants agreed to fully assist the governments of the United States and the Republic of Colombia in the identification and location of all directly forfeitable property and substitute assets and to pass clear title to directly forfeitable property and substitute assets to the United States.
The sentences are a result of Operation Coffee Country," a coordinated international investigation by the ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Attaché's Office in Bogotá and the Diplomatic Security Service - Regional Security Office in Bogotá. The ICE HSI special agent in charge in Washington, D.C., and the Diplomatic Security Service - Criminal Investigations Division provided substantial assistance.
The government of Colombia, including the Colombian Department of Administrative Security and Colombian prosecutors, provided significant assistance and support during the investigation, arrest and extradition of the defendants. The U.S. Department of Justice's Office of International Affairs and the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá worked with their counterparts in Colombia.