Los Angeles – The owner of an immigration consulting business and an employee were indicted Friday on federal immigration fraud charges in a scheme involving hundreds of Chinese nationals who sought asylum based on phony claims of religious persecution.
Haoren Ma, 47, owner of New Arrival Immigration Service, and his employee, Minghan Dong, 55, both of San Gabriel, Calif., were named in a 13-count indictment returned Friday by a federal grand jury. This indictment is the result of a probe conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service's Fraud Detection and National Security Unit in Anaheim, Calif.
The indictment alleges Ma and Dong charged as much as $6,500 to prepare and file applications on behalf of Chinese nationals seeking asylum in the United States. The applications falsely claimed the aliens fled China due to persecution resulting from their Christian beliefs.
According to court documents, many of the asylum applications filed by the defendants contained nearly identical accounts of purported persecution, including descriptions of underground church meetings that led to arrests and torture by Chinese authorities. Ma and Dong allegedly provided their clients with detailed written materials and audio tapes on Christianity to help them prepare for their asylum interviews. One of the DVDs furnished to a confidential informant posing as an asylum seeker was labeled "Jesus 1."
"Immigration benefits can't be bought," said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for ICE Homeland Security Investigations in Los Angeles. "ICE Homeland Security Investigations will move aggressively to investigate and bring to justice those who potentially compromise the integrity of America's legal immigration system simply to enrich themselves."
Investigators have linked New Arrival Immigration Service to more than 800 asylum applications filed since 2000. Suspicions about the company first arose in January 2009 after U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at a Southern California mail facility intercepted a package containing a stuffed animal with five fraudulent Chinese passports concealed inside.
The indictment accuses the defendants of one count of conspiracy, four counts of presenting false immigration documents, four counts of presenting false writing or documents to a government agency, and four counts of failing to disclose their roles in preparing false immigration documents. These charges carry a statutory maximum penalty of 85 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $2.5 million. Ma is also charged with an additional immigration fraud count, as well as aggravated identity theft. In a separate indictment, Ma is charged with illegal possession of a firearm. These charges against Ma carry a maximum statutory sentence of 22 years in prison.
Ma is scheduled to be arraigned on the indictment in U.S. District Court Monday. Dong's arraignment is set for Oct. 31.