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星期四, 1月 28, 2016

RHODE ISLAND WOMAN PLEADS GUILTY TO $800,000 IMMIGRATION SCAM

RHODE ISLAND WOMAN PLEADS GUILTY TO $800,000 IMMIGRATION SCAM
 
BOSTON – A Woonsocket woman pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Worcester to federal wire fraud charges in connection with a scheme to defraud immigrants that netted over $800,000.
 
Patria Zuniga, 53, of Woonsocket, R.I., pleaded guilty to eight counts of wire fraud.  U.S. District Judge Timothy S. Hillman scheduled sentencing for May 24, 2016. 
 
From 2009 through 2012, Zuniga targeted immigrant victims telling them that she worked for US immigration authorities and could assist them in lawfully obtaining permanent resident immigration status.  The victims typically had no lawful status or temporary legal status in the United States.  Zuniga’s services were initially offered for $8,000 to $14,000; however, after the victims made the payments, Zuniga extorted additional funds by, among other things, threatening to have them deported if they refused to pay. 
 
Victim payments were initially made in cash, but later in the scheme Zuniga accepted money via cash deposits made directly into designated bank accounts (including accounts owned by her daughters), money orders, and bank and Western Union wire transfers.  In total, victims paid more $800,000 over the course of the fraud.
 
In furtherance of her scheme, Zuniga employed a variety of tools to create the appearance of legitimacy in front of the victims.  For example, in order to prove that she could in fact deliver the promised immigration benefits, Zuniga showed her victims photocopies of immigration documents with their names and photographs on them, which she had forged.  Zuniga also routinely arranged for victims to travel to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Offices in Boston purportedly to take receipt of the  of the immigration documents.  Upon arrival, victims waited for hours only to have Zuniga contact and cancel the non-existent appointment. 
 
Zuniga’s daughters, Alba Peña and Indranis Rocheford, have also been charged in connection with the fraud.  They are scheduled for trial in April 2016. 
 
Zuniga faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000 per count of wire fraud.   Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
 
United States Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz; Matthew Etre, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations; and Shelly Binkowski, Inspector in Charge of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in Boston, made the announcement today. The case is being prosecuted by Jordi de Llano of Ortiz’s Major Crimes Unit.