California pair held in green card scam

A Los Angeles-area immigration consultant and one of her employees were arrested Thursday morning after being named in an indictment that alleges they filed fraudulent green card applications on behalf of immigrants who were married to U.S. citizens, some of whom paid more than $20,000 for their services.

They are Claudia Arreola, 35, of El Monte, who owns California Immigration Services, and her business associate, Leticia Gutierrez, 35, Pico Rivera. They were taken into custody by special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations. The two women were charged in a six-count indictment returned Tuesday by a federal grand jury.

“Fraud scams run by so-called notarios threaten the integrity of the immigration process and offer false hope to desperate people,” said U. S. Attorney André Birotte, Jr. “The two women in this case victimized immigrants for years by giving the false impression that they could fix immigration problems.”

According to the indictment, the defendants submitted paperwork to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on behalf of six foreign nationals who were seeking to obtain green cards for permanent resident status based on legitimate marriages to U.S. citizens. The applications filed by the defendants allegedly included fraudulent I-94 cards indicating that the immigrants, who originally came to the U.S. illegally, entered lawfully on visitors’ visas.

The immigrant victims were originally quoted fees of approximately $7,000, but the defendants ultimately charged them as much as $24,000, the indictment said. Investigators say when several of the foreign nationals sought refunds after they failed to receive green cards, the defendants threatened to contact authorities and have the aliens deported.

“Tragically, as is often true in such scams, at least some of the victims in this case could have obtained green cards legally,” said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations Los Angeles. “Instead, they placed their trust and, in many cases, their life savings in the hands of individuals who were focused on enriching themselves, rather than on helping hopeful immigrants realize the American dream.”

This case is part of an ongoing, nationwide effort by the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security to target unscrupulous immigration practitioners and combat the unauthorized practice of immigration law, officials said.

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