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March 28, 2023Charlotte, NC, United StatesEnforcement and Removal, Document and Benefit Fraud, Child Exploitation

Federal judge sentences naturalized citizen for lying to obtain US citizenship

Defendant failed to disclose conviction of committing sexual offenses against a child

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — U.S. District Judge Kenneth D. Bell ordered Herbert Leonel Diaz, 53, a naturalized citizen of the United States who was born in El Salvador and previously resided in Henderson, to serve eight months in prison for naturalization fraud Feb. 1.

Bell ordered Diaz’s federal sentence to be served concurrently with the 35-year prison term he is currently serving in California for committing sexual offenses against a child.

Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) Atlanta Field Office Director Sean Ervin announced the sentence with U.S. Attorney Dena J. King.

According to court documents, trial evidence and witness testimony, from December 2003 to August 2006, while residing in Corona, California, Diaz committed numerous sexual offenses against a child. In August 2006, the victim reported Diaz’s crimes to law enforcement. The following day, Diaz fled California and moved to Henderson.

In November 2010, while residing in Henderson, Diaz applied for naturalization to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Court documents showed that Diaz lied on the application form by responding “No” to the question “Have you ever committed a crime or offense for which you were not arrested?”

Diaz signed the form under penalty of perjury and certified that his answers were true and correct. On March 2, 2011, Diaz appeared at the USCIS office in Charlotte for a naturalization interview. During the interview, Diaz swore under oath that he had never committed a crime for which he had not been arrested. On March 30, 2011, at the USCIS office in Charlotte, Diaz participated in a naturalization ceremony and was granted U.S. citizenship.

In 2012, North Carolina law enforcement officials arrested Diaz on an outstanding warrant related to his sexual crimes against a child and he was extradited to California. In 2014, Diaz pleaded guilty to five counts of lewd acts with a child and was sentenced to 35 years in prison. In September 2021, Bell found Diaz guilty of naturalization fraud following a bench trial. The conviction for naturalization fraud will result in an automatic revocation of Diaz’s citizenship.

King thanked ERO for its investigation and credited Operation False Haven, which led to Diaz’s conviction. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Smith of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte prosecuted the case.

Operation False Haven is an ongoing ICE initiative with support from ERO and Homeland Security Investigations’ (HSI) Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force and the U.S. attorney’s office. The operation identifies and helps prosecute child molesters and other egregious felons who were convicted after petitioning for immigration benefits, for crimes they committed prior to applying.

Since 2019, Operation False Haven has resulted in 56 criminal cases, 26 civil cases, 21 convictions, 15 judicial revocations of citizenship, and seven judicial removal orders against defendants convicted of crimes involving serial rape, child molestation, incest, child pornography, kidnapping, narcotics trafficking, money laundering, tax fraud, prescription fraud, embezzlement, aggravated identity theft and elder abuse.

For more news and information on how ERO Atlanta carries out its immigration enforcement mission in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, follow us on Twitter @EROAtlanta.