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Document and Benefit Fraud

Imposter immigration attorney pleads guilty to mail fraud

BOISE, Idaho — A Jerome woman whose seven-year immigration fraud scheme bilked immigrants out of more than $300,000 pleaded guilty Wednesday to mail fraud, following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

Celia Perez, 40, admitted in a plea agreement to falsely representing herself as an immigration attorney and soliciting fees from clients for services she never provided. When interviewed by HSI special agents, Perez admitted she had engaged in the fraud scheme for several years.

Court records state that from 2006 to 2013 Perez invoiced her clients for "fees and fines" that she claimed were due to the government. The clients then sent money, by certified checks and money orders, to Perez at her post office box in Wendell through the U.S. Mail. Investigators found that she never filed any paperwork or paid any fees to the U.S. government.

Ms. Perez took advantage of those who dreamed of U.S. citizenship," said U.S. Attorney Wendy J. Olson. "She took their money, but was never in a position to assist them in obtaining immigration benefits. The U.S. Attorney's Office and its law enforcement partners are committed to vigorously pursuing this kind of fraud. We are committed to protecting the integrity of the United States immigration system and those who lawfully seek benefits through that system."

Victims of Celia Perez's fraud scheme can contact HSI at 866-DHS-2-ICE or http://www.ice.gov/tips.

Each count of mail fraud is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, a maximum fine of $250,000 and up to three years' supervised release.

Sentencing is set for April 29. The U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Idaho is prosecuting the case.