SANTA ANA, Calif. – A former officer with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has been found guilty of accepting bribes in a long-running immigration fraud scheme, following a probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) and ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Jesus Figueroa, 69, of Tujunga, was found guilty Thursday of one count of conspiracy to commit bribery and to impede the lawful function of government immigration agencies. Figueroa was also convicted of four counts of accepting bribes and three counts of fraudulently misusing his official USCIS seal.
United States District Judge Andrew Guilford, who presided over a six-day trial, is scheduled to sentence Figueroa June 6, at which time the defendant will face a statutory maximum penalty of 80 years in federal prison.
The evidence at trial showed that Figueroa accepted bribes from a Los Angeles attorney in exchange for approving immigration applications regardless of whether the immigrants applying were entitled to immigration benefits, including lawful permanent residence status. The attorney who paid the bribes – Kwang Man “John” Lee, 50, of Rancho Cucamonga – pleaded guilty in January 2015 to three counts of bribing a public official and is scheduled to be sentenced in September.
Figueroa and Lee had known each other for years, and both worked together at the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), where they oversaw the issuance of immigration benefits, including “green cards” and citizenship. In 1999, Lee left the INS and became a lawyer in private practice. Figueroa stayed with the INS, part of which became USCIS with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. Figueroa continued to review applications for immigration benefits.
According to court documents, “Lee’s law practice became primarily immigration related and he began engaging in fraud and bribery in order to obtain immigration benefits for his clients. The public officials Lee would bribe in order to obtain immigration benefits for his clients were primarily the individuals he knew while working for INS,” including Figueroa.
Lee and recruiters working for him would tell foreign national clients that Lee could obtain immigration benefits, such as legal permanent resident status, in exchange for fees that ran as high as $50,000. In some cases, Lee and his recruiters arranged sham marriages for aliens to make it appear that they were entitled to immigration benefits. Figueroa, when reviewing petitions from aliens in sham marriages, knew the marriages were bogus and, because he had taken bribes from Lee, approved the applications for legal permanent residence.
“The defendant betrayed his oath to the United States by selling his services and allowing aliens to improperly reside in the United States,” said U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “As this case demonstrates, public officials who are more concerned with illicit profit than upholding the law will lose their positions and face prosecution.”
Figueroa was found guilty of conspiracy, which carries a statutory maximum penalty of five years in federal prison; four counts of bribery, each one of which carries a statutory maximum penalty of 15 years in prison; and three counts of fraudulently misusing his official USCIS seal, each one of which carries a maximum statutory sentence of five years.
ICE OPR and HSI received substantial assistance with the investigation from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Office of Internal Affairs; the Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General; U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Office of Security and Integrity; and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.