SANTA ANA, Calif. — The owner of a San Gabriel immigration consulting business and one of his employees have been sentenced to federal prison for participating in a long-running scheme to prepare and file fraudulent asylum applications that made phony claims of religious persecution on behalf of hundreds of Chinese nationals.
Haoren Ma, 50, of San Gabriel, Calif., the owner of New Arrival Immigration Service, was sentenced April 28 to four-and-a-half years in federal prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy, immigration document fraud and aggravated identity theft. Ma's employee, Minghan Dong, 49, of San Gabriel, was sentenced Monday to one year and one day in prison for conspiracy to commit immigration document fraud.
Ma and Dong were arrested in September 2011 by special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) following the execution of federal search warrants at New Arrival Immigration Service and related offices. During the search, investigators seized stacks of partially completed asylum applications, counterfeit Chinese consular and embassy embossing seals, financial records and counterfeit identity documents.
According to court documents, Ma and Dong charged from $3,500 to $6,500 to prepare and file the fraudulent asylum applications on behalf of Chinese nationals. Ma and Dong falsely claimed that their clients fled China after being persecuted for their Christian beliefs, even in situations where the clients said they were Buddhists.
"As this sentence makes clear, those who corrupt the integrity of our nation's legal immigration system by exploiting our country's generous asylum laws must understand there are serious consequences for those actions," said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for HSI Los Angeles. "As a country, we're committed to providing refuge for those fleeing persecution, but there will be no such protections for people who manipulate this system for profit and put our nation's security at risk in the process."
Suspicions about New Arrival Immigration Service first arose in January 2009 when 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 package was being shipped to an address used as a mail drop by New Arrival Immigration Service.
Over the course of the investigation, HSI agents found that many of the asylum applications prepared 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. As part of the scheme, Ma and Dong provided their clients with detailed written materials and audio tapes on Christianity to help them prepare for their asylum interviews.
As the investigation unfolded, HSI worked closely with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' (USCIS) Los Angeles Asylum Office in Anaheim, California to identify potentially fraudulent asylum applications submitted by the defendants.
"We are very pleased with this outcome," said David Radel, Acting L.A. Asylum Office Director with USCIS. "It is an excellent example of federal agencies working together to combat fraud and maintain the integrity of our immigration system. USCIS is committed to identifying those who may have illegally obtained asylum through this fraudulent scheme and providing this information to our investigative colleagues."
Based upon queries of databases maintained by the immigration courts, HSI investigators linked the defendants to more than 800 asylum applications filed since 2000, making it one of the largest asylum fraud cases uncovered in the Los Angeles area in recent years.