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TAMPA, Fla. – A Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Tampa task force was awarded during the 69th Annual Attorney General’s Awards ceremony earlier this year. U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland recognized those who “have served selflessly to further the [Department of Homeland Security’s] important work upholding the rule of law, keeping our country safe, and protecting civil rights.”
The Attorney General’s Award for Fraud Prevention recognizes exceptional dedication and effort to prevent, investigate, and prosecute fraud, white collar crimes, and official corruption. For their skill, professional and dedication, an HSI Tampa benefit fraud mission task force was awarded for their efforts to safeguard the integrity of the nation’s immigration system by disrupting and preventing fraud to obtain unlawful immigration benefits.
Special Agents Kristy Anderson, Alvis Lockart, and Yenixa Perez, as well as Task Force Officer Ryan Doherty, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Francis D. Murray were recently awarded for “their extraordinary leadership and substantial contributions to the Justice Department’s ongoing efforts to eradicate and deter fraud against immigrants in our community.”
From 2018, this multi-agency team investigated and prosecuted a series of cases involving fraudulent schemes where individuals falsely posed as immigration attorneys and targeted undocumented immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries who were seeking Florida driver licenses and work authorizations. In total, the schemes victimized at least 359 migrants, most of whom were from Central and South American countries. The intended losses exceeded $1.23 million.
“Immigrants, particularly those whose legal status is in question, are among the most vulnerable persons in our society,” Anderson said. ‘“Notario’ frauds and other attorney-imposter frauds targeting immigrants are an epidemic in the Middle District of Florida and across our nation.”
The first of these prosecutions was United States v. Erika Intriago. Intriago falsely marketed and portrayed herself as a licensed immigration attorney, and at times, as a “notario” to Spanish-speaking immigrants. These immigrants paid her to represent them in immigration proceedings before U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
However, Intriago either never filed her client-victims’ petitions, abandoned their petitions, or failed to inform her clients that their petitions had been denied. To conceal and perpetuate her scheme, Intriago falsified letters and other correspondence from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and USCIS.
“To make matters worse, she manipulated her victims by threatening to report their immigration status to authorities when they confronted her,” Andersen said. “Intraigo’s victims suffered severe financial hardship and harmful consequences to their immigration status.”
In 2020, Intriago pleaded guilty to wire fraud. She was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment and was ordered to pay $61,013 in restitution to 60 known victims. The Intriago team was comprised of AUSA Murray, TFO Doherty and SA Anderson.
The second prosecution was United States v. Roberta Guedes. In 2014, Guedes graduated from law school but twice failed the Florida Bar exam. Undeterred, she incorporated two fake law firms, marketed her legal services, and rented office space across the street from the US Attorney’s Office. Guedes charged her client-victims, primarily immigrants, fees for legal services ranging from immigration to family-law matters.
“Guedes misrepresented herself as an attorney and impersonated a former law school classmate and licensed attorney,” Perez said. “Guedes filed court pleadings and immigration petitions using that classmate’s name and bar number and made several personal appearances in immigration and state court. While the Florida Bar investigated her conduct, Guedes falsified a third-party affidavit to undermine and discredit that investigation.”
Guedes pleaded guilty to mail fraud and aggravated identity theft. In 2020, she was sentenced to 4.5 years imprisonment and ordered to pay $14,318 in restitution.
The third prosecution was United States v. Elvis Reyes. Reyes falsely portrayed himself as an immigration attorney to target undocumented immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries seeking Florida driver licenses and work authorization. Reyes gave clients inaccurate and incomplete legal and immigration advice to induce them to retain his services.
He then filed fraudulent immigration applications in the client-victims’ names, seeking asylum relief and withholding-of-removal protections provided for under the U.N. Convention Against Torture.
“Unbeknownst to the client-victims, Reyes falsified information in the applications – fabricating stories about threats, persecution, and the applicants’ fears of returning to their native countries,” said Doherty. “He did not inform the victims about the legal, administrative, and immigration-related consequences that might follow from a denied asylum application, such as immediate removal proceedings.”
In total, his scheme victimized approximately 292 victims with intended losses exceeding $1.1 million. In December 2020, Reyes pleaded guilty to mail fraud and aggravated identity theft. On April 12, 2021, he was sentenced to 20 years and nine months in prison.
“These criminals defrauded hundreds of victims who thought they were starting a path to legal citizenship,” said HSI Tampa Special Agent in Charge John Condon. “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 outstanding law enforcement partnership in the region, they were held accountable for their crimes. That is what we do.”
All three prosecutions were widely covered by English and Spanish-speaking news outlets, as well as in legal-news outlets like Law360.
“The high-profile nature of the prosecutions had immense deterrence value and helped bridge a gap between law enforcement and vulnerable immigrants in our community,” Anderson said. “The news coverage has also encouraged immigrant-victims in Florida to report similar crimes to law enforcement—helping bridge the gap between law enforcement and a more isolated, distrustful, and vulnerable population in our community.”
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