Making Immigration Happen
Chicago Woman Arrested for Selling Fraudulent Identity Documents to Illegal Aliens
A woman was arrested Wednesday, February 13, 2013, on charges she allegedly sold fraudulent identity documents to illegal aliens. These charges resulted from an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigra

Tag Archives: money laundering

MS-13 Gang Member Pleads Guilty to Racketeering Scheme that Resulted in Two Murders

Dennis L. Gil-Bernardez, an MS-13 member who also is known as Pando, pled guilty Friday, December 7, 2012, to taking part in a federal racketeering conspiracy that was responsible for numerous crimes, including two murders, in the Washington, D.C., region. The guilty plea was announced by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton, U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. of the District of Columbia, Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division, and Cathy L. Lanier, Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD).

Gil-Bernardez, 36, pled guilty in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Judge Rosemary M. Collyer sentenced him to 76 years in prison. The sentence will run concurrently with an 80-year prison term that Gil-Bernardez already is serving in another gang-related case in Virginia.

The defendant was among a group of MS-13 members indicted in November 2011. As part of his plea, he admitted that he was in MS-13′s Normandie clique, and that, after consulting with an incarcerated member of MS-13 in El Salvador, he ordered the murder of Louis Membreno-Zelaya, which was committed by other MS-13 members. Membreno-Zelaya, 27, was found, stabbed to death, on Nov. 6, 2008, in Northwest Washington.

In his plea, Gil-Bernardez admitted that MS-13 is a transnational criminal street gang with a presence in at least 20 states and the District of Columbia, as well as many Central American countries, including El Salvador and Honduras, which is Gil-Bernardez’s country of origin. According to court documents, members of MS-13 use violence and intimidation to protect the gang and enhance its reputation. The gang is involved in murder, attempted murder, robbery, extortion and obstructing justice through the intimidation and threatening of witnesses.

In addition to ordering the murder of Membreno-Zelaya, Gil-Bernardez also admitted today to shooting a person whom he believed to be a rival gang member in April 2008. The victim was shot five times and hospitalized for a week after undergoing life-saving surgery.

Finally, Gil-Bernardez admitted to murdering Luis Chavez-Ponce, 22, July 29, 2008, in Riverdale Park, Md., believing Chavez-Ponce to be a rival gang member. Gil-Bernardez stopped one of the other MS-13 members from chasing after the victim, who was on a bicycle. Gil-Bernardez chased Chavez-Ponce around the corner of a building and fired several shots, killing him.

The gun which Gil-Bernardez used in the murder of Chavez-Ponce was determined to be the same weapon used in the shooting of three people in Reston, Va., in October 2008, to which Gil-Bernardez also admitted. His 80-year sentence in Virginia is a result of those crimes, which were prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. This latest plea is one of several by MS-13 members in recent months in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The prosecution grew out of the efforts of the federal Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, a multi-agency team that conducts comprehensive, multi-level attacks on major drug trafficking and money laundering organizations. The principal mission of the nationwide program is to identify, disrupt and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking and money laundering organizations, and those primarily responsible for the nation’s drug supply.

This case was investigated by ICE, MPD, Prince George’s County Police Department, Montgomery County Police Department and Fairfax County Police Department. It is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Laura Gwinn, of the Department of Justice’s Organized Crime and Gang Section, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nihar R. Mohanty and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill O’Malley.

Albanian Crime Syndicate Extradited to U.S. for Drug Trafficking and Money Laundering

The alleged leader of an ethnic-Albanian organized crime syndicate was extradited from Albania to the United States Friday, November 16, 2012. He was arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Judge Cheryl L. Pollak at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn on drug and money-laundering charges contained in a superseding indictment returned July 7, 2011.

Arif Kurti, 42, also known as “the Bear,” “Arty,” and “Nino,” was arrested in Albania on a provisional warrant issued from the Eastern District of New York.

According to the indictment and other court filings submitted by the government, the syndicate comprises several inter-related ethnic Albanian family clans (also known as “fis”), with hundreds of associated members, workers and customers. In operation for more than a decade, the syndicate is allegedly responsible for organizing the importation and distribution of tens of thousands of kilograms of hydroponic marijuana from Canada and Mexico, substantial quantities of MDMA from the Netherlands and Canada, hundreds of kilograms of cocaine from Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela and Peru, and large quantities of diverted prescription pills, such as oxycodone. The drugs were distributed in various locations in the United States, including New York, California, Georgia, Colorado, and Florida, as well as in Canada and Europe.

To date 49 defendants have been arrested in the case. The government’s four-year investigation revealed Kurti allegedly coordinated and controlled major aspects of the syndicate’s international narcotics trafficking activities, including smuggling marijuana from Canada and Mexico concealed in tractor trailers, typically in hundred pound quantities, with some loads containing as much as 1,200 pounds of marijuana.

Under Kurti’s direction, the syndicate also allegedly obtained kilogram quantities of cocaine from sources in the United States for export to Albania and other locations in Europe, concealed in hidden compartments inside luxury automobiles – ostensibly under the auspices of legitimate car dealerships which were actually controlled by syndicate members. The syndicate was allegedly involved in negotiations to obtain hundreds of kilograms of cocaine from sources in South America for transport through the United States to Canada and Europe, including (1) a shipment of 100 kilograms of cocaine from Colombia to New York, which the defendants planned to break down into smaller shipments and smuggle into Canada in exchange for high-grade hydroponic marijuana; (2) a 100 kilogram shipment of cocaine from South America to Albania; (3) regular shipments of cocaine from Florida to New York; and (4) ongoing efforts to establish a pipeline to supply 40 kilograms of cocaine per month for distribution in Spain. The investigation further revealed that while Kurti was in Albania, he allegedly continued to direct syndicate operations by communicating instructions to his underlings.

During the course of the investigation, federal officers seized more than 1,200 pounds of marijuana, approximately $2,000,000.00 in suspected drug proceeds, twenty-two handguns, a military/police-issue assault rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.

“Arif Kurti was allegedly one of the top leaders of a multinational drug trafficking organization seeking to expand its operation and further feed its poison all over the world,” said HSI New York Special Agent-in-Charge James T. Hayes Jr. “Kurti’s extradition demonstrates HSI’s and its law enforcement partners’ world-wide reach to capture those who violate U.S. laws and bring them to justice.”

“As alleged, Kurti ran a multimillion dollar crime syndicate that spanned the globe and trafficked in narcotics in the U.S. and worldwide. Thousands of pounds of narcotics and millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains were under his control,” said Loretta E. Lynch, United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York. “Thanks to the combined efforts of our partners in law enforcement in the United States, and the assistance provided by authorities in Albania, there is no safe haven for drug traffickers, including the alleged leader of an international drug trafficking organization.”

Brian R. Crowell, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in New York stated, “This was a global drug trafficking network in every sense of the term, operating on three continents. Arif Kurti is alleged to have directed the importation and distribution of tons of cocaine, MDMA, diverted prescription medications and marijuana in every hemisphere. This extradition highlights the focus of international law enforcement and demonstrates that an international border will not deter our commitment to protect our nation from drug trafficking organizations.”

If convicted, Kurti, who is charged with operating a continuing criminal enterprise and using firearms in furtherance of the syndicate’s drug trafficking crimes, faces a 25 year mandatory minimum sentence and a maximum of life imprisonment.

The investigation into Albanian organized crime groups operating throughout the world was led by the New York Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Strike Force, HSI, and the New York State Police, in coordination with the Attorney General’s Organized Crime Committee, International Organized Crime Intelligence and Operations Center, as well as DEA’s Special Operations Division.

The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Steven Tiscione, Gina Parlovecchio, Richard Tucker, Michael Yaeger, Una Dean and Claire Kedeshian.

Former Lawyer Sentenced for Visa Fraud, Money Laundering, and Obstruction of Justice

The onetime head of a now defunct Los Angeles law firm was sentenced Thursday, November 15, 2012, to 10 months in prison for his role in orchestrating a lengthy employment visa fraud scheme where the illicit profits were used to purchase several hundred thousand dollars’ worth of vacant cemetery plots and grave monuments.

Joseph Wai-Man Wu, 53, former president of the East West Law Group, pleaded guilty in August 2011 to one count of conspiracy to commit visa fraud, one count of money laundering and one count of obstruction of justice. As part of a plea agreement reached in February, Wu surrendered a portion of his profits derived from the visa fraud scheme, forfeiting to the government 30 vacant cemetery plots and 20 grave monuments, all of which were purchased with proceeds from the scam. Wu used the cemetery plot purchasing scheme to launder some of the money he unlawfully obtained through the visa fraud scheme. The grave plots will now be sold at public auction and the proceeds given to the U.S. Treasury.

Wu’s sentencing is the latest development in a 2 ½-year investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) that also involved the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of the Inspector General, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) Fraud Detection and National Security Unit.

In pleading guilty, Wu admitted that, from approximately 1996 to 2009, he and other members of the law practice set up nearly a dozen shell companies in order to file at least 137 fraudulent employment-based visa petitions for nearly 100 alien clients. In return for filing those fraudulent petitions, the clients paid Wu and his co-conspirators anywhere from $6,000 to $50,000. Many of the petitions were for H-1B visas, which the government reserves for foreign workers with specialized skills, such as accountants and information technology professionals. Authorities say the aliens named in those visa applications never worked for the defendants or the fictitious companies.

“Our agents encounter a lot of unusual money laundering schemes, but this is the first time we’ve come across a case where the suspects sought to bury their profits by buying cemetery plots,” said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for HSI Los Angeles. “As this case makes clear, HSI will go where ever the evidence takes us to ensure that those who compromise the integrity of the visa process are held accountable for their crimes.”

The other two defendants charged in the case were Kelly Einstein Darwin Giles, 49, the only attorney at the former East West Law Group, and Wu’s wife, May Yim-man Wu, 46. Giles, who pleaded guilty Sept. 19 to conspiracy to commit visa fraud and obstruction of justice, is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 17, 2013. May Wu, who played a minor role in the conspiracy, is participating in a pretrial diversion program.

Prosecutors say the case represents the first time in the Central District of California where federal investigators uncovered a scheme involving the purchase and sale of cemetery plots as a means to launder criminal proceeds. While the situation is highly unusual, funeral professionals claim grave sites appreciate at a rate of up to 10 percent a year and are less susceptible to economic downturns than other types of real estate.

Construction Business, Owner Plead Guilty to Harboring and Employing Illegal Aliens, Money Laundering

A Louisiana construction business and its owner pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday, November 8, 2012, to charges of conspiring to hide more than $280,000 gained by harboring and employing illegal aliens at multiple company work sites. The guilty plea follows an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Ramon Santos, 43, of Kenner, La., owner of Rendon Construction LLC, and the company itself each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Santos faces up to 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. Rendon Construction LLC faces five years probation and a $500,000 fine.

According to court documents, Rendon Construction and Santos knowingly employed illegal alien workers and encouraged existing workers to recruit other illegal aliens by word of mouth. The company then paid workers in cash by funneling money through a shell company to conceal the nature of these cash payments between April and July 2011.

“Companies that violate federal law by paying workers illegally ‘under the table’ seek to gain an unfair advantage over legitimate businesses that play by the rules,” said Raymond R. Parmer, special agent in charge of HSI New Orleans. “This practice denies job opportunities to law-abiding citizens and deprives federal, state and local governments the tax revenue needed to provide the essential services we all rely upon.”

Financial records show Santos authorized twelve checks from a Rendon Construction account made payable to Diablo Construction, which was a shell corporation without any assets or employees. Santos then cashed the checks through a check-cashing service and used the proceeds to pay his illegal alien workers at company job sites.

Sentencing is scheduled for February 15 in U.S. District Court. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Louisiana State Police and the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office assisted with the investigation.

Man Pleads Guilty to Transporting Prostitutes to Massage Parlor

An Annandale, Va., man pleaded guilty Wednesday, October 31, 2012, to operating an unlicensed taxi business that brought women from other states to perform sexual services for patrons at an Annandale-based massage parlor.

The case was investigated by the Washington, D.C. offices of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation, and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, with assistance by the Fairfax County Police Department.

Jin Seob Oh, 41, originally from South Korea, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to transport women to engage in prostitution, which carries a penalty of up to five years in prison, and conspiracy to commit money laundering, which carries a penalty of up to 20 years. His sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 15, 2013.

In a statement of facts filed with his plea agreement, Oh admitted that from 2010 to June 2012, he owned and operated an unlicensed taxi business known as “Royal Taxi.” From February 2011 to April 2012, Oh served as the primary taxi driver for women who worked at “Peach Therapy,” a massage parlor located in Annandale that provided sexual services to customers.

The former owner of Peach Therapy, Susan Lee Gross, also known as “Ju Mee Lee Gross,” 46, originally from South Korea but now of Trinidad, Colo., encouraged or instructed the women to only obtain transportation from Oh to minimize the number of people who knew the details about the women working at Peach Therapy, the sexual nature of the business, and how they were transported to the massage parlor. The women paid him $40 per trip.

At the direction of Lee Gross, Oh also deposited thousands of dollars of proceeds from commercial sexual activity into Bank of America accounts that belonged to Lee Gross and those opened in the name of a family member. He admitted that he understood that these bank accounts were used to conceal the unlawful source of the money and to ensure that activity could continue.

This case was investigated by HSI, which participates in the Northern Virginia Human Trafficking Task Force, as does IRS-CI and NCIS.

The Northern Virginia Human Trafficking Task Force is a collaboration of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies – along with nongovernmental organizations – dedicated to combating human trafficking and related crimes. From 2011 to the present, 44 defendants have been prosecuted in 25 cases in the Eastern District of Virginia for human trafficking and trafficking-related conduct involving at least 32 victims.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael J. Frank is prosecuting the case on behalf of the United States.

Drug Ring and Money Laundering Operation Shut Down by HSI

Seven people were sentenced to federal prison Wednesday, October 17, 2012, for their roles in a drug trafficking and money laundering scheme that used Arkansas businesses to hide $315,000 in illegal proceeds from a California-based drug ring. The charges stemmed from a joint investigation launched in May 2011 by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and members of the Washington County Sheriff’s Department, Springdale Police Department and Rogers Police Department.

Manuel Haro-Gutierrez, 50, a citizen of the Dominican Republic, was sentenced to more than seven years in prison and fined $35,000 by U.S. District Court Judge Jimm Larry Hendren. Gladis Haro, 51, an aggravated felon from Guatemala previously removed from the United States, was sentenced to seven years imprisonment and fined $25,000. Osiris Depaz-Ramirez, 28, a citizen of Guatemala, was sentenced to more than two years imprisonment and Victor Palacios, 52, a citizen of El Salvador, was sentenced to eight months imprisonment.

Jania Haro, 34, a U.S. citizen, was sentenced to eight months imprisonment plus two years supervised release. Ivan Salan-Aguilar, 49, and Manuel Haro Jr., 24, also U.S. citizens, were each sentenced to one year and one day imprisonment plus two years supervised release.

The defendants were arrested Dec. 15 and pleaded guilty April 25.

Raymond R. Parmer Jr., special agent in charge of HSI New Orleans, said, “These defendants sought to hide the proceeds of drug trafficking by passing ill-gotten money through a seemingly legitimate business. Today’s sentencing shows how HSI and its law enforcement partners work to penetrate and dismantle elaborate criminal enterprises that threaten the safety and security of our nation.” Parmer oversees a five-state area of responsibility including Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee.

During the investigation it was discovered that Manuel Haro-Gutierrez and his wife, Gladis Haro, operated a multi-state methamphetamine and crack cocaine ring based in Los Angeles that funneled its profits through two Springdale, Ark., businesses owned by the Haro family – Haro Auto Repair and Paint, and the Rumba Room Night Club. HSI investigators traced a bulk of the laundered currency to the Los Angeles area, where Gladis Haro was residing.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the Drug Enforcement Agency assisted with the investigation.

Puerto Rican Fugitives Arrested by HSI for Drug Trafficking and Weapons Violations

Two fugitives wanted for weapons violations and drug trafficking were arrested Tuesday, October 16, 2012, in Barranquitas, Puerto Rico, by members of the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) Violent Offenders Task Force and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents.

Edwin Monge-Peña, 29, wanted by HSI for drug trafficking, and Luis Daniel Rivera-Carrasquillo, 32, wanted by the FBI for weapons violations, were arrested by USMS and HSI special agents in the vicinity of Paseo de Torre Alta in the municipality of Barranquitas, while they were looking for a third fugitive who remains at-large. During the arrest, special agents asked for and obtained consent to search the residence, resulting in the seizure of six rifles; a 9 mm pistol; a machine gun; several magazines, ammunition and cellular telephones; and more than $10,000 in cash.

“These men made the wrong decision by engaging themselves in criminal activity and again, by evading their arrest,” said Angel Melendez, acting special agent in charge of HSI San Juan. “HSI will continue working with our partners in the U.S. Marshals Service Violent Offenders Task Force to apprehend those who think they can commit a crime and then run and hide.”

Monge-Peña is one of the 53 individuals indicted for drug trafficking and money laundering and was a target of Operation Lighthouse, a joint HSI-U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration investigation that culminated in the arrest of 44 individuals Oct. 4.

Both men were transferred to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, awaiting the outcome of their case.

Former CBP Agents Convicted for Extensive Alien Smuggling Ring

Two former San Diego-area U.S. Customs and Border Protection Border Patrol agents face up to 50 years in prison following their conviction Friday, August 10, 2012, for operating a lucrative human smuggling ring that brought hundreds of Mexicans and Brazilians illegally into the United States using official agency vehicles.

Raul Villarreal, 42, and his brother, Fidel Villarreal, 44, both of San Diego, and a co-defendant, Armando Garcia, 44, of Tijuana, Mexico, who acted as a foot guide for the ring, were found guilty by a jury on multiple felony counts of conspiracy to smuggle aliens, money laundering and receiving bribes. The defendants will be sentenced in November by U.S. District Court Judge John Houston. In addition to prison time, the defendants could be required to pay more than $1.25 million in fines.

A fourth co-defendant, Claudia Gonzalez, of Tijuana, pleaded guilty in December 2009 to conspiracy to smuggle aliens for financial gain, bribery and money laundering. Gonzalez is scheduled to be sentenced in September.

The verdicts of August 10, 2012, are the latest developments in a probe by U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), aided by ICE Homeland Security Investigations, that began after the agency received a tip in 2005 involving allegations of public corruption tied to an alien smuggling ring.

“Raul and Fidel Villarreal committed an egregious breach of the deep trust placed in DHS employees by the American people they swore to protect and serve,” said Joe Jeronimo, special agent in charge for OPR Western Region. “While their actions are atypical of the dedication and integrity demonstrated by the vast majority of DHS employees, this verdict should nonetheless send a message about the serious consequences facing those who would exploit their positions and violate the law. The ICE Office of Professional Responsibility and the DHS Office of Inspector General will continue to aggressively investigate such allegations and seek to prosecute perpetrators to the fullest extent of the law.”

All four defendants were arrested in Tijuana in October 2008 on arrest warrants obtained by ICE. The defendants were then extradited in March 2009 to the United States to face the federal charges.

According to court documents, ICE special agents conducted extensive surveillance of the defendants’ smuggling operations, using surveillance aircraft, GPS devices and video cameras mounted on poles along the California-Mexico border. The video showed Fidel Villarreal picking up groups of illegal aliens with his official Border Patrol vehicle and transporting them to designated staging locations to await their transportation into the interior.

Fugitive Arrested in Puerto Rico for Money Laundering Operations in New England

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents arrested a 47-year-old Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) fugitive Thursday, June 28, 2012, in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, who is wanted in the state of Massachusetts for money laundering.

HSI San Juan special agents arrested Juan Carlos Guadalupe-Nuñez during a law enforcement operation near the Villa Prades shopping center in Rio Piedras. Guadalupe-Nuñez is listed as one of the most wanted fugitives by the DEA New England division. He is subject to an outstanding federal arrest warrant issued inMassachusettsfor conspiracy to launder money, money laundering, and aiding and abetting.

Subsequent to Guadalupe-Nuñez’s arrest and during an inspection of his vehicle, HSI special agents and San Juan Police Department officers found a loaded 9 mm Smith & Wesson handgun.

“The arrest of this Massachusetts DEA fugitive by HSI special agents in Puerto Rico should send a loud and clear message to those criminals who try to evade justice by fleeing a particular jurisdiction: They can run but they cannot hide,” said Angel Melendez, acting special agent in charge of HSI San Juan. “HSI will continue working with our local, state and federal partners in an effort to protect our communities from those who pose a threat to our public safety and security.”

Guadalupe-Nuñez was remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service and transferred to the Guaynabo Metropolitan Detention Center awaiting the outcome of his case.

ICE aggressively investigates money laundering and international financial crimes. In recent decades, U.S. law enforcement has encountered an increasing number of major financial crimes, frequently resulting from the needs for drug trafficking organizations to launder large sums of criminal proceeds through legitimate financial institutions and investment vehicles.

Operation Cornerstone is ICE’s initiative to detect and close down weaknesses within U.S. financial, trade and transportation sectors that can be exploited by criminal networks. Law enforcement entities share criminal typologies and methods with businesses and industries that manage the very systems that terrorists and criminal organizations seek to exploit. This sharing of information allows the financial and trade community to take precautions in order to protect themselves from exploitation.

Californian Couple Sentenced for Alien Harboring, Fraud, and Money Laundering

A Bay Area couple, who operated local elder care facilities, and two area real estate agents were sentenced Thursday, May 10, in federal court for their role in a far-reaching mortgage loan fraud scheme involving at least 20 northern California properties and more than $20 million in loan proceeds.

“Mortgage loan fraud has had a devastating effect on the United States’ economy,” U.S.
Attorney Melinda Haag said. “My office will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to bring those who commit these crimes to justice.”

In February, Edith Nelson, 53, and her husband, Ronald Nelson, 76, who ran numerous residential care facilities, admitted in court to making fraudulent representations involving numerous real estate loans totaling in excess of $20 million. The charges are the result of an investigation involving U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)-Criminal Investigation.

According to the plea agreement, the pair owned and operated Placement Services, a
referral business in Pleasant Hill that placed elderly individuals in residential care facilities. In August 1998, the California Department of Social Services banned the couple from having any involvement in state licensed care facilities due to various violations.
Despite the exclusion order, the Nelsons continued to operate numerous such facilities using other people’s identities and acquiring new properties using straw buyers.

According to the plea agreement, the Nelsons maintained full control over the residential
care facilities by directing the straw buyers to sign grant deeds that either transferred the title of the property to Edith Nelson or added her name to the title. In addition, some of the straw buyers were instructed to open bank accounts that were controlled by the couple.

“IRS-CI takes mortgage fraud seriously. The impact of these types of crimes cannot be
overstated. Fraud in the mortgage industry has played a major role in almost crippling this nation’s economy,” said Marcus Williams, special agent in charge, IRS-Criminal Investigation. “IRS-CI is committed to pursuing individuals who commit this type of offense. Those who line their pockets with profits from these schemes should know they will not go undetected and will be held accountable.”

In addition to the financial violations, the Nelsons also admitted hiring illegal aliens to work as caregivers in their facilities. The caregivers worked long hours at less than minimum wage and often resided in the same facilities where they worked. Many of the Nelsons’ illegal alien workforce were paid under the table in cash and did not pay taxes.

“As the defendants learned yesterday, those who defraud our financial system face
serious consequences,” said Clark Settles, special agent in charge for HSI San Francisco. “These individuals callously exploited foreign workers; our nation’s legal immigration system; and the mortgage-lending process, all for their own enrichment. Justly, they are now going to pay a significant price for their crimes.”

Also sentenced Thursday, May 10, for their role in the scheme were two Bay Area real estate agents, Nelda Asuncion, 68, co-owner of Realty World Pacific West in Concord, Calif., and Cristeta Lagarejos, 49, owner of Legacy Financing in Pleasant Hill. The two women previously admitted participating in the mortgage fraud scheme with the Nelsons. They acknowledged preparing the mortgage loan applications in the names of the straw
buyers, using false information about the buyers’ employment, income and assets.

The sentences below were handed down by U.S. District Court Judge D. Lowell Jensen:

  • Edith Nelson – sentenced to 37 months in prison and ordered to pay restitution of more than $5.2 million (plus interest and penalties on the restitution owed for income tax evasion);
  • Ronald Nelson – sentenced to 32 months in prison and ordered to pay restitution of more than $5.2 million (plus interest and penalties on the restitution owed for income tax evasion);
  • Nelda Asuncion – sentenced to 30 months in prison and ordered to pay more than $2.8 million in restitution; and
  • Cristeta Lagarejos – sentenced to 18 months in prison and ordered to pay more than $318,000 in restitution.

The $5.2 million in restitution the Nelsons were ordered to pay includes restitution to lending institutions and other victims of the mortgage fraud; taxes owed based upon their income tax evasion and back wages of more than $1.5 million owed to 49 of the Nelsons’ employees and former employees.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Deborah Douglas prosecuted, aided by Paralegal Noble Hughes and Legal Assistant Daniel Charlier-Smith.