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Document and Benefit Fraud
03/07/2012

San Diego-area immigration consultant gets nearly 7 years for fraud scam

Sentence among the longest ever imposed against unscrupulous immigration practitioner

SAN DIEGO – The former owner of an immigration consulting business who defrauded more than 150 clients from multiple states has been sentenced to 81 months in federal prison following a probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Armando Garcia, 60, of Tijuana, Mexico, pleaded guilty in June 2011 to aggravated identity theft and related conspiracy charges for operating a fraudulent consulting business with offices in Pico Rivera and National City. At his sentencing hearing Monday, the judge ordered Garcia to return to court May 7 to determine the amount of restitution he owes his victims.

Garcia's co-defendant and business associate, Elizabeth Alcocer, 48, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, pleaded guilty to mail fraud, aggravated identity theft and related conspiracy charges in August 2010. Alcocer is scheduled to be sentenced March 19 before U.S. District Court Judge Michael M. Anello.

"As the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security, one of HSI's top enforcement priorities is targeting the criminals and criminal organizations that undermine the integrity of our nation's legal immigration system," said Mike Carney acting special agent in charge for HSI San Diego. "The fraud perpetuated by unscrupulous immigration consultants who exploit the system to enrich themselves hurts us all."

According to court documents, Garcia opened his consulting business, California Legal Services, in 2001 in Pico Rivera, hiring Alcocer to assist him. As part of a fraud scheme, they offered to get undocumented aliens legal immigration documents allowing them to live and work legally in the United States, for a fee.

Garcia and Alcocer did not disclose to their victims they submitted applications on their behalf with false information and fraudulent supporting documentation. The two prepared and filed various immigration applications based on fraudulent documents they created, including counterfeit marriage certificates, birth certificates and tax returns. In other cases, they provided counterfeit government letters to show the victims that their applications were filed and pending normal processing time.

Some of the victims received employment authorization documents from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services based on prima facie eligibility while their applications were being adjudicated by immigration officers. Meanwhile, Garcia and Alcocer continued to defraud the victims by demanding additional payments.

To date, investigators have identified in excess of 150 victims who paid California Legal Services more than $1.2 million for fraudulent services. Additional victims are encouraged to contact HSI San Diego at (619) 550-5183.

For more information, visit www.ice.gov.