The charges stem from a year-long criminal investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that culminated earlier this week with the defendants' arrests in New Mexico and San Diego. The defendants are charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and aggravated identity theft.
Armando Garcia, 58, of Tijuana, Mex., was arrested Monday in San Diego outside a fast food restaurant. His detention hearing is set for June 25 before U.S. Magistrate Judge William V. Gallo in San Diego. Garcia's co-conspirator, Elizabeth Alcocer, 47, of Albuquerque, N.M., was taken into custody at her residence. She is expected to be transferred to San Diego in the coming weeks.
In addition to the criminal charges, the indictment also includes a forfeiture allegation for approximately $120,000, which represents the amount of money allegedly derived from the fraud scheme.
"Protecting the integrity of the nation's immigration system is a top priority for ICE," said Mike Carney, acting special agent in charge for ICE in San Diego. "Legal immigration status is not for sale. Unfortunately, swindlers and fraudsters prey on the desperation of illegal immigrant victims, promising them legal status and leaving them with nothing but worthless documents and broken dreams."
According to court records, the defendants operated "California Legal Services" (CLS), an immigration consulting business located in Pico Rivera, Calif. They falsely represented themselves as immigration attorneys or immigration officers to illegal immigrants who were seeking legal immigration status.
As part of the fraud scheme, the defendants allegedly told their clients that, for a fee, they would receive documents from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) enabling them to live and work legally in the United States. Then, without the clients' knowledge, the defendants prepared immigration benefits applications using fraudulent documentation and submitted the paperwork to USCIS.
In addition to filing fraudulent benefits applications, the defendants mailed their clients counterfeit immigration notices, purportedly signed by USCIS district directors, to convince them they were paying for legitimate legal services and prove their immigration cases were being processed.
Although the investigation revealed several victims, ICE believes there are others affected by this scheme who have not been identified. Investigators urge anyone with information about the case to contact ICE at (619) 550-5229.
For more information, visit www.ice.gov.