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April 13, 2021Tampa, FL, United StatesDocument and Benefit Fraud

Phony immigration attorney filed hundreds of fraudulent claims, sentenced to more than 20 years in federal prison after HSI investigation

TAMPA – A Florida man was sentenced Monday to 20 years and 9 months in federal prison for mail fraud and aggravated identity theft in connection with a scheme where he posed as an immigration attorney and filed hundreds of fraudulent asylum applications. This case was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.

“This criminal defrauded hundreds of victims who thought they were starting a path to legal citizenship,” said HSI Tampa Assistant Special in Charge Michael Cochran. “Identity and benefit fraud are crimes that threaten the national security and public safety of the U.S. by creating vulnerabilities to our legal immigration system. Thanks to HSI special agents, and our partners with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, he will now be held accountable for his crimes.”

According to court documents, Elvis Harold Reyes, 56, of Brandon, who owned and operated EHR Ministries Inc., portrayed himself as an immigration attorney. He is not and has never been a licensed attorney. Reyes targeted undocumented immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries who were seeking Florida driver licenses and work authorization. Reyes gave false, inaccurate and incomplete legal and immigration advice to victims to induce them to retain his services and those of EHR Ministries.

Victims retained and paid Reyes to represent them in immigration-related matters before USCIS and other agencies. Reyes filed fraudulent immigration applications in the victims’ names, seeking asylum relief and withholding-of-removal protections provided for under the United Nations Convention Against Torture. In doing so, Reyes falsified answers to questions in the asylum applications—fabricating stories about threats, persecution and the applicants’ fear of returning to their native countries. Reyes did not inform the victims of the answers that he had provided on their behalf. He also did not inform the victims about the legal, administrative and other immigration-related consequences that might follow from filing for asylum relief or for Convention Against Torture protection. 

“Posing as an immigration attorney, Reyes targeted hundreds of vulnerable people in the Tampa community with his immigration scam,” said USCIS Tampa District Director Michael Borgen. “USCIS is committed to finding and stopping those who want to cheat the immigration system and preserving it for those who qualify for immigration benefits.”

Reyes filed more than 225 fraudulent applications, intending to cause victim loss of more than $1 million. His victims’ actual losses exceeded $411,000. Reyes spent the criminal proceeds on, among other things, travel, luxury shopping, spas, jewelry, beautification/anti-aging procedures and an allowance for his girlfriend.

Reyes threatened aggrieved victims who confronted him by claiming that he could have them deported. And, when investigative reporting revealed Reyes’s scheme, he attempted to obstruct justice by having a friend wipe his computers.

“It is appalling that Elvis Reyes was preying on vulnerable individuals living in fear within our county,” said Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister. “I am proud of our detectives, who thoroughly investigated claims made by each victim, and our diligent efforts to reach undocumented members of our community through both English and Spanish PSAs, encouraging them to come forward if they were taken advantage of by Mr. Reyes. I am confident that these efforts ultimately helped lead to a conviction.”

This case was prosecuted by Middle District Florida U.S. Attorney’s Office, Assistant United States Attorney Frank Murray. Reyes had pleaded guilty Dec. 15, 2020. The Court deferred consideration of victim restitution to a later date.

HSI is a directorate of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel and finance move. HSI's workforce of over 10,400 employees consists of more than 7,100 Special Agents assigned to 220 cities throughout the United States and 80 overseas locations in 53 countries. HSI's international presence represents DHS's largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.