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Document and Benefit Fraud

French couple charged in ICE probe of Internet scam that promised victims "green cards" and jobs

LOS ANGELES - A French woman living in the San Fernando Valley was arrested this morning after she and her husband were charged yesterday with defrauding French residents out of thousands of dollars with false promises of work and United States "green cards."

Deborah Sion, 25, of Van Nuys, was arrested without incident by special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). She is expected to make her initial court appearance this afternoon in United States District Court in Los Angeles.

Also charged in the case is Sion's Husband, Isaac Peres, 27, who is currently in custody in France, where he is facing charges in an unrelated fraud scheme.

The charges are the result of an investigation by ICE with extensive assistance from French law enforcement.

Sion allegedly used a series of aliases, including "Celine Fabre," "Rachel Brand," "Lynn Skeirik," "Elodie Duprey," "Corrine Maillard," "Sophie Marshal," and "Sophie Nerriere." Sion and Peres allegedly posted advertisements on the Internet that offered immigrants jobs in the United States, along with lawful permanent resident status. Peres also used aliases, including "Ari Boukobza" and "Laurent Febert."

A criminal complaint filed in federal court yesterday afternoon charges the couple with transfer of false identification documents, mail fraud, wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft, charges that could bring a prison sentence of up to 57 years for each defendant.

According to the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint, Sion and Peres posted ads on Internet billboard sites such as craigslist.com and franceservice.com. The ads offered positions for French employees at restaurants in the Los Angeles area and casinos in the Las Vegas area, and further stated that successful applicants could receive assistance in getting legal immigration status in the United States.

Once victims responded to the ads, Sion would reply via e-mail, claiming that the victim had qualified for the employment, according to the affidavit. Sion told victims that a "lawyer friend" - usually her aliases "Rachel Brand" or "Lynn Skeirik" - could assist the victims in obtaining lawful permanent resident status through the Diversity Lottery Program, in which green cards are distributed to citizens of qualified nations through a lottery system.

Sion allegedly told victims that the fee for the Diversity Lottery Program was somewhere between 1500 and 2700 Euros, depending on what bogus services, such as travel or housing assistance, Sion could sell the victim in addition to the "green card." (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services does not charge aliens a fee to apply to the Diversity Lottery Program.)

Sion and Peres sent victims documents related to applications made to immigration authorities. Once the victims returned the paperwork, which included fingerprint cards, Peres or Sion obtained counterfeit "green cards," and sometime Social Security cards, for victims by providing the victims' photographs and fingerprints to a counterfeit document vendor. Several victims discovered the documents they received from Sion and Peres were bogus when they went to the American consulate in Paris and were told that the "green cards" were fake. Others victims attempted to enter the United States and were prevented from entering the country when immigration authorities determined the documents were not legitimate, according to the complaint. The affidavit in the case also alleges that Sion sent threatening e-mails to victims who complained about the bogus documents.

"The defendants in this case preyed upon people seeking the American Dream," said Thomas P. O'Brien, the United States Attorney in Los Angeles. "This case is all the more egregious because their victims were primarily fellow French citizens."

Robert Schoch, special agent in charge for the ICE Office of Investigations in Los Angeles, commented: "Sadly, the people who fell victim to this scheme genuinely believed the defendants had ties to the United States government and were selling legitimate 'green cards.' Once again the lesson is 'buyer beware.' If you see advertisements on the Internet promising visas or green cards, don't be fooled. Our nation's immigration benefits are not for sale."

Philippe Larrieu, the French Consul General in Los Angeles, stated: "We would like to express our gratitude to ICE for its outstanding work on this case. The remarkable cooperation between U.S. and French law enforcement led to the successful arrest of the French couple who stole from over 100 victims, most of them French citizens, but also nationals from other European countries and Canada. These victims not only lost around $4,000 each, some of them were also arrested for attempting to enter United States with false immigration documents."

The Consul General is asking any other victims who have not come forward to identify themselves by e-mailing to: francais@consulfrance-losangeles.org.