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Document and Benefit Fraud

Tampa woman sentenced for fabricating documents in 274 asylum petitions

TAMPA, Fla. - Barbara Branks, 58, was sentenced to four years and nine months in federal prison yesterday for conspiring to make false written statements in order to submit asylum petitions, following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Tampa and U.S. Citizenship Immigration Services (USCIS) in Tampa and Miami.

Branks, owner of La Gringa Professional Immigration Services, was also ordered by U.S. District Judge Virginia M. Hernandez Covington to forfeit an estimated $816,000 in profits she received from her fraudulent activities and was sentenced to two years of probation upon her release.

"The U.S. government grants asylum to people who are truly in need of protection from persecution by their own government or others the government is unwilling to control," said Sue McCormick, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Tampa. "This woman took advantage of the system and many of her clients for her own profit."

"The United States has a great legacy as a welcoming nation to legitimate asylum seekers from around the world," said Erin Fatica, director of USCIS' Miami Asylum Office. "We are deeply committed to ensuring that those who deserve humanitarian protection under our immigration laws receive it and that those who seek to abuse our immigration system do not succeed in their efforts."

Branks pleaded guilty on Nov. 17, 2009, to filing 274 fraudulent asylum petitions. ICE and USCIS officials will be reviewing cases submitted by Branks' company and will seek to terminate any benefits derived as a result of fraudulent activity.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Eduardo Toro-Font of the Middle District of Florida. This successful investigation and prosecution are the result of the cooperation and partnership among ICE, USCIS and the U.S. Attorney's Office.